Activist finds calling in animal rights
Hal Stoelzle © News © 2005
By Sara Burnett, Rocky Mountain News
As a child, Rita Anderson would feed leftover meatloaf and pot roast to the stray dogs that wandered by her family's house.
She always had pets.
But it wasn't until the early 1980s that the animal lover first heard about people doing research on animals.
A niece in Atlanta mentioned it during a phone call, then mailed her aunt a pamphlet of information.
"It literally changed my life," the Boulder woman recalled.
"I was just stunned and shocked to think humans would do these things to other creatures."
A single mother with little free time, Anderson started volunteering when she could with groups such as In Defense of Animals, an animal-rights organization.
Among her first projects was convincing the Boulder City Council to replace the word "pet owner" in animal ordinances with "pet guardian."
The idea was that if people didn't consider animals their property, they would treat them better, Anderson said.
The success of that project showed Anderson she could be a leader - a position she'd never seen herself in before.
It was then that she turned her sights to animal research at the University of Colorado and eventually to her long fight to get the CU Health Sciences Center to release its colony of bonnet macaque monkeys. A former coordinator of organized tours to locales around the world, Anderson still does some event coordinating part time. She also receives a stipend from In Defense of Animals for her work on the CU monkey project.
She estimates that she puts 40 hours into the job some weeks. The animals come second on her list of priorities only to her two grown children and three grandchildren, she said.
Convinced that defending animal rights is a calling from God, she's never felt more satisfied.
"It's not always fun. Some days, I'd like to turn it off, to sit in the sun and read a book," Anderson said.
"Then I think of one dog undergoing a surgery it doesn't need, one cat being sliced up or one monkey with electrodes in its brain, and I can't rest."