> AR Interviews
4 July 2001
Activist Devotes Life to Animal Rights
By Jack Lessenberry
Gary Yourofsky is not, he says, an animal lover. Never mind that
virtually every waking moment of his life is devoted to fighting for animal
rights. Never mind that he has been arrested more than a dozen times and
served more than two months hard time in a Canadian prison for liberating mink.
No, he's not an animal lover. "I don't even like most animals,"
the outspoken 30-year-old said.
"Anyway, this isn't about loving them. It's about injustice.
My goal is to free them. They are a disenfranchised group. They have
the right to their own existence. They aren't ours to exploit. They
exist for their own reasons."
Mr. Yourofsky, a slight, virtually bald young man with piercing eyes,
has dedicated his life to fighting for what he sees as the worlds' greatest
civil rights movement: Animal Liberation. Though he is of a generation
that is virtually a stranger to political commitment, he is, cheerfully and
proudly "an activist 24/7. This is what I do."
He isn't kidding. A large tattoo of himself wearing a hood and
displaying the symbols of ALF, the Animal Liberation Front, adorns one forearm.
He isn't getting rich at it. Mr. Yourofsky is "in debt up to my
ears. I owe at least $30,000 on credit cards," and gets by on
donations. He lives in a tiny apartment with his ancient dog, Rex, and
probably could fit all his worldly goods into his car.
Sometimes, he admits, he gets down, especially when he thinks about how
much brutality there is, and how little progress he has made. But he has
absolutely no doubt that what he is doing is right, and that his life would even
be worth losing if it would help stop what he thinks is the most evil "ism" in
"Speciesism. That is, the unfounded, unethical, and unprincipled
view that the human animal has every right to enslave, torture, and murder the
Does he think that the life of a gnat, say, is as valuable as that of a
person? He waves impatiently; he isn't going there. "What we must do is
start viewing every cow, pig, chicken, monkey, rabbit, mouse, and pigeon as our
"And we must be willing to do whatever it takes to gain their freedom
and stop their torture," he adds. For himself, that means only nonviolent means.
But Mr. Yourofsky doesn't condemn others who feel differently. "Do not be
afraid to condone arsons at places of animal torture," he has written to
Matter of fact, if an "animal abuser" were to get killed in the process
of burning down a research lab, "I would unequivocally support that, too."
He wasn't always out there. He grew up in the very suburban,
mostly Jewish Detroit suburb of Oak Park. He ate meat, played guitar, and
dreamed of someday being a goalie in the National Hockey League.
Then, one day in his early 20s, his stepfather, who was a professional
circus clown, took Gary behind the scenes at the circus. He went up to an
elephant and "saw nothing but fear and hopelessness in her eyes" and saw that
she was chained and could barely move. "I didn't even know then how they
are routinely beaten, to break their spirit. I just knew something was
wrong." When they brought out dancing bears wearing tutus, he left.
That changed his life. He plunged into research on how animals are
treated and mistreated; became first a vegetarian, then a more radical
vegan. Though he had degrees in journalism and broadcasting, he decided to
put his skills to work full-time for the animals. Five years ago, he
founded ADAPTT (Animals Deserve Absolute Protection Today and Tomorrow) which
now has, he says, 2,200 or so members.
Yes, he did once liberate precisely 1,542 mink from individual cages on
a now-bankrupt Ontario farm, crawling through dirt and mink feces to do
so. Yes, he chained himself to his car and blocked the entrance to Detroit
Animal Control Center, to protest their gassing of unwanted animals and, worse,
selling them to a university for experiments.
"Any real scientist will tell you we learn nothing of value by
experimenting on animals. Nothing!" he maintained. "And even if we did,
we've no right to do it."
Though he may be arrested again, what he really prefers doing is
lecturing about animal rights. An articulate, compelling speaker, he is in
increasing demand on the classroom and lecture circuit. When he's not
doing that, he is heavily into other forms of "informational propaganda."
Last fall, he successfully wangled $10,000 from PETA - People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals - and got a commercial attacking "the animal slavery
enterprise known as the circus" on local TV 69 times.
What the future holds, he knows, is more frustration. Last winter,
depressed over his economic situation and the enormous task, Mr. Yourofsky
dropped out for two or three months, before gradually returning to the
fray. Now, however, he is pumped and ready. If he gets tired, he
remembers what he tells audiences: "Picture yourself in chains, swaying back and
forth as someone whacked you over the head with an elephant hook. Then
tell me you wouldn't want your supporters to do anything to obtain your
In the long run, he doesn't expect to see very much animal liberation in
his lifetime. "I really think I will be assassinated," he said. One comes
away with a feeling that if his own death helped further the cause, it might,
for Gary Yourofsky, seem worth it.
Jack Lessenberry is a member of the journalism faculty at Wayne State
University in Detroit. E-mail him at
OMBLADE@aol.com . So far this article
appeared in the Sunday, June 24,2001, editions of The Toledo Blade(http://www.toledoblade.com/) and The
Oakland Press (http://www.theoaklandpress.com/)