Clearly, an Animal Isn’t an ‘It’: PETA Wants Change to AP Stylebook

Animals Are Living Beings, Not Inanimate Objects, and Shouldn’t Be Lumped In With Tables and Chairs

For Immediate Release:
March 24, 2020

Megan Wiltsie 202-483-7382

New York

With the 2020 edition of The Associated Press Stylebook due out in June, PETA sent a letter this morning urging the Associated Press to revise its pronoun policy for animals.

The 2019 edition of the stylebook currently requires the use of “it” for any animal who hasn’t been given a name or had their sex identified by humans. For instance, it now offers “The cat, which was scared, ran to its basket.” PETA—an organization that opposes speciesism, the damaging belief that all other animal species are inferior to humans—suggests using the pronouns “he,” “she,” or “they” for all animals, with “they” as an appropriate choice for an animal of unknown gender. (“The cat, who was scared, ran to their basket.”)

“Language matters. Words influence how we think and behave, so reducing a cat or another animal to an ‘it’ encourages the mindset that allows us to kill sentient beings for snacks or shoes or to test products like shampoo on them,” says PETA President Ingrid Newkirk. “PETA is asking the Associated Press to avoid speciesist language and set an example for newsrooms by referring to all animals respectfully as ‘he,’ ‘she,’ or ‘they.’”

PETA’s motto reads, “Animals are not ours to experiment on, eat, wear, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way.” For more information, visit

PETA’s letter to AP Stylebook Editor Paula Froke follows.

March 24, 2020

Paula Froke
APME Executive Director

AP Stylebook Editor

The Associated Press

Dear Ms. Froke,

On behalf of PETA and our more than 6.5 million members and supporters worldwide, I’m writing to request that you revise The Associated Press Stylebook‘s rule that rejects the use of personal pronouns for animals to whom humans have not given a name or whose sex has not been established so that it will reflect the fact that animals are living beings, not inanimate objects.

As you know, words matter, and as we increasingly recognize that nonhuman animals have inherent rights, legal standing, and individuality, the language we use to refer to them must evolve as well. Just as it has become unacceptable to use racist, sexist, homophobic, or ableist language, it is now becoming unacceptable to use speciesist language. Referring to animals as “it” implies that they are objects without feelings or sentience, which fuels the misguided belief that one species is superior to another. This toxic mindset is deeply ingrained in our society and results in many negative consequences for animals, such as the deaths of billions of animals each year in the name of hamburgers, leather jackets, and other items made from animals’ body parts.

Using “he,” “she,” or even the plural “they” to refer to a specific animal of unknown gender would be a wonderful first step toward acknowledging that animals are individuals with personalities, not objects. It has been established that whales can communicate by singing across oceans, dogs are capable of understanding more than 200 words, sheep can recognize as many as 50 faces after not having seen them for two years, and chickens can perform basic arithmetic and use at least 24 different vocalizations to communicate. Surely they deserve better than to be referred to in the same way that an inanimate object like a chair or a pen is.

We hope that as lead editor of the definitive guide to journalistic style, you’ll set an example for newsrooms across the country by making this important transition, which will move us one step closer to a world in which all animals are treated with compassion. We look forward to hearing from you.

Very truly yours,

Ingrid E. Newkirk


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