ROYAL OAK, Mich. - 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 world's 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 human history.
“Speciesism. That is, the unfounded, unethical, and unprincipled view that the human animal has every right to enslave, torture, and murder the non-human animal.”
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 family members.
“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 supporters.
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 some day 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 freedom.”
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 The Blade's ombudsman and a member of the journalism faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit. E-mail him at OMBLADE@aol.com or call 1-888-746-8610.