Activist Spotlight: Claudine Erlandson

PETA’s current recipient of the Outstanding Activist Award is Claudine Erlandson, a compassionate, wise, and fiercely dedicated animal rights advocate. In between protesting the circus, marching for animal rights, and gathering signatures for petitions, Claudine sat down and shared some insight with us.

When did you first get involved with animal rights and why?

When I was a little girl growing up in Paris, I had a little rabbit friend whom I named Jeannot-Lapin. One day, I came home from school and found that my father had killed him for food. Another time, I witnessed my father drowning kittens in a bucket. These are horrible memories, but because of them, I learned that I would always stand up for animals when they couldn’t stand up for themselves.

What are some of your proudest animal rights moments?

While working in the library at the University of Washington, I learned that the school was using macaques for a horrible behavioral experiment called “mother deprivation,” in which, as the name implies, researchers separate babies from their mothers.

Fortunately, there was an organization here near Seattle called PAWS (Progressive Animal Welfare Society), a shelter for dogs and cats, a wildlife center, and an advocacy department. I joined them all, and we were successful in stopping that horrible experiment with baby macaques.

I also became the Washington state representative for FAR (Feminists for Animal Rights). Yes, I became obsessed! I helped to collect signatures for initiatives to ban bear-baiting and hound hunting, which both successfully passed!

What made you get involved with PETA?

I became a member of PETA in 1988, and in 1990, I organized a trip for 60 of us to go and represent the state of Washington at the March for the Animals in Washington, D.C. That was a real turning point for me. We attended PETA’s Helping Animals 101 and cried and cried at some of the horrible films that we were shown.

When I returned from six months in Africa, where I had helped orphaned chimpanzees who had lost their mothers to the bush-meat trade, several of my friends were working for PETA and helped me continue my activism by participating in protests against Ringling Bros., the fur industry, and restaurants that served foie gras.

Can you tell us about your most recent projects or demonstrations?

Every Tuesday and Thursday, I conduct my own “little” weekly protests at KFC and McDonald’s (usually four or five of us, plus my two dogs!). I have been diligently there for more than four years! I attend monthly Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee meetings at the University of Washington (which I have done for the last 25 years!). And for years, I have been making organic catnip balls—little toys for kitties. I also call it “chatnip,” a word coined by Ingrid Newkirk. I regularly donate them to a little store called Vegan Haven, which belongs to Pigs Peace Sanctuary. They sell them for $1.50 each, and the money goes to the piggies.

What does your family think of your activism?

When I first became involved with animal rights, my husband of 53 years, Jack, said I was becoming a fanatic and obsessed. I liked that—I took that as a compliment. And I will never change until I die! As I like to say, “J’amais assez”—“never enough for all animals”!

Do you have any companion animals?

Jack and I have two dogs, Louis, a Japanese Chin, who is a rescue from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and Daisy, a Cockachon, originally from Wisconsin, but her guardian (my age) died, and her daughter couldn’t keep her.

What is your favorite vegan food?

I like all vegan food, unfortunately … except chocolate! One of my favorites is perhaps tofu scramble.

Do you have a favorite tip for easy activism?

Follow your heart, and follow PETA! Let your love for animals shine through always and all ways—fight for them any chance you get, every day.

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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind