PETA's most wanted

The animal-rights watchdog is always on the warpath against someone. Which New Yorkers are in its crosshairs?

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Whether you agree with them or not, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is not an organization you want to cross. Just ask dogfighting don and (former?) NFL quarterback Michael Vick. With 25,000 of its nearly 1.6 million worldwide members based in New York, the group has plenty of local agents around to rat out anti-critter residents. So which New Yorkers should be ducking for cover, lest they end up on the wrong side of the group's hard-line tactics? Michael McGraw, PETA's director of Media Relations, spoke candidly to TONY about Gotham people and institutions that furrow his brow.

1. Ringling Brothers circus

The so-called Greatest Show on Earth is scheduled to roll into town in March 2008 and, as usual, PETA will be on hand to assert its disagreement with the claim. PETA's grievance, however, has less to do with B&B's questionable entertainment value than the questionable treatment of its animals in captivity. Particularly irksome is the ritual of marching elephants through the Midtown Tunnel each year in a bid to lure gawking crowds toward the big tent. McGraw describes the midnight amble as "a PR stunt" and says, "The elephants look defeated and tired; it's a sad spectacle to watch."

2. NYU and Columbia.

According to PETA, New York is a hub of activity for scientific animal testing, with an axis of evil stretching from the far Upper West Side to just south of Union Square. Alka Chandna, Ph.D., a PETA senior researcher, even volunteers a couple of profs for particular censure: "NYU's Lynne Kiorpes subjects infant and adult macaque monkeys to invasive procedures that impair the animals' vision," she reports, "and Columbia University's Raymond Stark studies the impact of morphine on the development of fetuses by pumping morphine into fetal baboons."

3. The horse-drawn carriage companies

The Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages, an independent group supported by PETA, has been breathing down the necks of Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council since January 2006. Its origins trace back to an accident a few weeks prior, in which Spotty, a five-year-old gelding, got spooked on Ninth Avenue, threw his driver and ran inadvisably into traffic. He was severely injured and later euthanized. "That accident was the reason we formed our coalition," says Elizabeth Forel, the coalition president. Pressure on city leaders is ongoing.

4. The cosmetics industry

PETA 's name-and-shame tactics against the beauty products industry are old hat by now, but that doesn't mean the suspected animal testing bothers them any less. New York companies Colgate-Palmolive and L'Oreal are among those on PETA's shit list for (reportedly) employing techniques such as eye irritation and acute toxicity experiments during product testing. The group's site conveniently lists the respective corporate headquarters as 300 Park Avenue and 575 Fifth Avenue, for those who wish to stand outside and heckle.

5. Musicon venison farm

Following a tip-off from one of its many eager informants, PETA has launched an investigation into suspected clandestine activities at this kosher deer slaughterhouse (located somewhat west of the city in Goshen, New York). According to kosher methodology, the deer must have their throat cut while they are still conscious. Says McGraw, "The sound of the deer choking on their own blood is possibly worse than the sight." PETA plans to send video footage of deer in their final seconds, along with an imploring letter, to every restaurant in the New York metro area with venison on the menu.

6. Parsons The New School for Design (sort of)

While Anna Wintour won't be speaking soon at any PETA banquets, the organization has moved beyond that feud and focused on the fashion industry's next generation: Parsons students. Admittedly, PETA's beef is less with the kiddies than with Saga, a marketing organization representing Scandinavian fur breeders, which donates fur to Parsons enrollees to spur their design inspiration. As a concession to PETA, Parsons has now granted the group time with its students to win them over to the anti-fur side.

7. All New York dog owners

It's difficult to say who would be considered more fanatical—the New York dog owner or the PETA activist. Yet we may be able to find out, as the groups are surprisingly at odds on several issues. Firstly, PETA receives a high volume of calls complaining of Manhattan animals (especially dogs) that are caged all day while their owners work. And though PETA supports adoption in all forms, the group admonishes anyone who acquires a pet from a no-kill shelter (it considers euthanasia a more humane practice than "warehousing" animals) or—far worse—from a breeder. McGraw does not mince words for purebred enthusiasts: "A purchase from a breeder is like sentencing a sheltered animal to death."

8. All New York meat eaters

PETA figures state that that 27 billion animals pass through the mouths of Americans each year. Never one to shy away from lofty goals, the organization has launched a "GoVeg" campaign (the group's largest marketing effort) urging people to give up the pleasures of the (animal) flesh. For a week, anyway. "We want people to see how easy it is," says McGraw. A lot easier than standing in PETA's way, most likely.

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