Dan Mathews Fights For Bears, Critters

AB: Back to the animal situation – what is your specific beef with the meet industry?

DM: First off, the issue of vegetarianism is our number one issue for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it’s the cruelty to animals is more intense and affects more animals in the meat trade than any other industry. They rip the beaks off of baby chickens when they’re born, because they’re confined in such close quarters that they peck each other to death. We hear from people in slaughter houses who have to chop off the lips and the hooves of cows while they’re hoisted upside down so the skin can more easily be pulled back for leather, while the cows are still alive! That’s what got me to hang up my leather!

AB: What if animals were treated as if it were a spa – they had big spaces to roam in, they were treated so well, and they were killed humanely?

DM: That was always a bizarre question to me, because that’s like saying, “If you’re grandmother had a nice life, why shouldn’t you eat her?” All meat eating seems like cannibalism to me. I believe that we have so much more in common with all the animals than we have differences with them – they have fear, they have a nervous system, a pair of eyes, a brain, they strive for pleasure, they recoil from pain. Why would I want to eat something like that – it doesn’t seem like food. It’s not food!

AB: Are you seeing anybody right now?

DM: A few people, sure!

AB: Can you date a meat eater? I know a lot of vegetarians who refuse, which I find really annoying.

DM: Oh, yeah! I almost exclusively date meat eaters, but I’ve left a lot of vegetarians in my wake! I mean, I think that’s another reason why I’ve enjoyed being an activist – I don’t just hang out with like-minded people. These issues and the ways to deal with these issues are fresh to me, because I hear what the other side thinks about it. But, you know, I’m gay, but I don’t only hang out at gay bars. In fact, I love to go to Hooters, which is like a drag bar, but with actual girls! I think you should always be open to the thrill of evolving from a contrary influence rather than just being around like-minded people.

AB: Obviously you have a lot of access to a lot of people, you have great endorsements for the book, you guys work with a lot of celebrities. At some point in your book you talk about how your social alienation that you felt as a kid was “reconciled” by getting involved in animal activism and PETA and all that. I think this was actually before PETA – how has that helped you, approaching things as an outsider?

DM: Well, I certainly think it’s helped my connect with other people who are outsiders and a lot of the people that I work with, whether it’s Lady Bunny or Pink or Chrissy Hynde, have concerns with their own status as an outsider. I think it’s been great to link up with like-minded people, many of whom interestingly embrace animal rights. There seems to be a lot of overlap with that.

AB: Do you ever get the impression that a celebrity’s endorsing animal rights disingenuously?

DM: Sometimes, but I can tell pretty much right away and I’ll keep an eye on that sort of thing. We try to bring people to the level that they’re happy going to. Bea Arthur, for instance, helped us a lot on campaigns against animal experiments and against fur, but she’s nowhere near a vegetarian. I’ve popped by her place before when she’s asked me to help chop onions for her pot roast and not see irony in it. And, you know, I’m not going to storm out of her house – we’re just glad to get whatever help we get on whatever issue. It’s actually more powerful to link on with people who have overlapping interests but aren’t there all the way, because it brings in so many people that they appeal to and having that slight overlap can plant that seed in people’s mind. I think that it would be a mistake for any group to not deal with anybody who isn’t “pure”.

AB: I seem to recall a story from January or maybe February about how you guys who guys take in animals, couldn’t find them homes and had them euthanized. Am I remembering that correctly?

DM: Oh, yeah. It’s a story that’s been ongoing for years. We’ve always been very open about our euthanasia of animals. We are registered in the state of Virginia as vet technicians who are licensed to euthanized animals. We live in a very poor part of the country and the animal shelters around here are really – a lot of them – are really scummy: the animals are killed in really old fashioned ways, they’re gassed, they’re not killed thoroughly or properly. The animals just sit in cages for months and months. We built some of the shelters and, in other cases, where there are just animals that nobody wants to adopts, we will try to place the animals or euthanize them, because so many people will opt to buy animals from a pet shop or a breeder, there are millions of animals euthanized each year and, in America there is this bizarre obsession with this right to life thing, even with some animal people think that some life – even keeping a suffering animal alive is better than putting that animal out of their misery. PETA does not believe that. We believe that there is a fate worse than death and we could point to any number of shelters around the country where animals are suffering a fate worse than death everyday.

AB: Couldn’t you use your vast resources to get the message out?

DM: Oh, we have a very aggressive campaign. We have to get to the root of the problem and the root of the problem is getting people to spay and neuter their pets. We have a spay truck that will go to poor areas and fix people’s dogs and cats. We have a public service announcement, we’re involved in trying to promote legislation in different parts of the country that will demand shelters fix all their animals fix all their animals before they let people adopt them. Charlize Theron narrated our puppy mill expose and led an appeal for shopping malls to refuse pet stores that didn’t spay or neuter their pets. We have a broad campaign on that issue.

AB: Interesting…

DM: Back to what we were saying about gay groups. When the marriage debate was starting, I suggested that gay groups make an ad with that old Elizabeth Taylor line – “Marriage is a mistake everyone should be entitled to make,” but there were no takers!