Fueled by Passion, Driven by Purpose, Ingrid Newkirk Crusades for Animal Rights

Ingrid Newkirk

Ingrid Newkirk - PETA founder

Ingrid spent the early years of her life in Great Britain – specifically, in the Orkney Islands and in Ware, Hertfordshire. When she was seven years of age, her family moved to New Delhi, India. The year was 1956 – eight short years after India gained independence from British colonial rule. Over the next eleven years, Ingrid’s life would be influenced in many ways from her experiences in India.

Attending a convent school in the Himalayas – the norm for ex-pat children – shaped her religious beliefs. The rigid, stern approach of the nuns left her strongly questioning religion, and in turn, God. When not away at school, Ingrid helped her mother – a volunteer working with Mother Theresa at both a leper colony and a home for unwed mothers. Her contributions included rolling bandages for the sick, making stuffed animals for children, and caring for stray animals. It was those experiences that fueled her beliefs that all creatures – human and animal – deserved to receive care and respect.

The family moved again when Ingrid was eighteen, this time to Florida in the U.S. Her father, a navigational engineer, worked with the Air Force designing bombing systems for the U.S. military. It was there that Ingrid met – and married – Steve Newkirk. In 1970, the pair moved to Poolesville, Maryland. Steve introduced Ingrid to Formula 1 auto racing and sumo wrestling – a seemingly odd combination, but two sports for which Ingrid developed a deep fondness.

In Maryland, studying to become a stockbroker, Ingrid discovered that a neighbor had moved, leaving several kittens behind. The caring instincts which Ingrid developed as a girl in India came immediately into play. She gathered the kittens and took them to an animal shelter where she believed they would be cared for. To her shock and horror, the shelter euthanized the animals almost immediately. Ingrid became determined to take action.

She went to work for the shelter in an effort to provide care to the animals, as well as to discover, report and stop abuses by the workers. Ingrid witnessed blatant abuse of animals, including workers intentionally stepping on them – crushing them, often to death. When her pleas for change went unheeded, she blew the whistle on the shelter with State authorities. They took action. Ingrid went to work as an animal protection officer, eventually becoming the first female poundmaster in the District of Columbia. In that position, she influenced the agencies to start a sterilization program, an adoption program and the creation of an abuse investigation unit. She became head of the animal-disease-control division of the District of Columbia Commission on Public Health in 1976. 

Two significant events occurred in Ingrid’s life in 1980. On a personal note, she and Steve were divorced. In the area of her work, she met Alex Pacheco – a volunteer at an animal shelter in D.C. Alex gave Ingrid a copy of Peter Singer’s book – Animal Liberation. It was her initial introduction to the concept of animal rights. 

The passion to ensure proper care for animals burned brightly in each of them – as did a mutual attraction on a personal basis. Together, they formed the group – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA. They investigated the work of Edward Taub a psychologist who was conducting experiments on monkeys using electrical shocks and physical restraint. Their documentation of his truly horrific actions led to an amendment to the 1985 Animal Welfare Act.

PETA has become the most well-known organization supporting animal rights in the world. Their actions have led to legislation to protect animals, pressured countries to cease cultural practices which were abusive, saved the lives of countless animals, and stopped the mistreatment of even more. PETA’s success is due to the fact that Ingrid Newkirk is a fearless brand.

Fearless brands combine passion, purpose and persistence to achieve their goals

Ingrid Newkirk is truly a fearless brand. She embraced her passion which fueled her purpose – protecting and safeguarding animals. She has been unwavering in her persistence. Importantly, her efforts are relevant – relevant to her personally, relevant to the world’s animal population and certainly relevant to society. 

That being said, most people find Newkirk’s methods with PETA to be extreme and unacceptable. Her support of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) is at the top of the list of actions that many find to be exceedingly objectionable. While PETA maintains a platform of non-violence, ALF does not shy away from violent activity.

Ingrid Newkirk is unapologetic about being controversial – she actually revels in the role of agitator. Because of the many controversies, many discount her, PETA and the animal rights she so vehemently strives to ensure. Newkirk’s fine with that. It’s her belief that pushing the limits of social acceptance is necessary to ensure her cause receives the attention she feels it warrants.

It’s that conviction which helps to define Ingrid Newkirk as a fearless brand. Like her or not – like PETA or not – like her methods or not – there’s much to learn about building an effective brand – a fearless brand – from Newkirk.

Embrace your passion, it fuels your purpose – Passion is the single biggest factor when it comes to a person living a fulfilling, rewarding and successful life versus merely ‘getting by’. Passion truly fuels our purpose and it’s having a clear purpose that drives our satisfaction. It’s true that many of us have (or have had) situations in our lives where we aren’t able to completely embrace our passion. It’s also true that we cannot stop striving to evolve those situations into ones where our passion can flow. Newkirk’s passion has never waned, which has been key to her fulfilling her purpose. We need to do the same.

Don’t shy away from controversy – Creating controversy merely for the sake of controversy is counterproductive and ill-advised. However, if we have embraced our passion and pursue our purpose, we cannot let controversy deter us. There’s a saying these days that “haters gonna hate”. That’s true, and we have to accept that. So long as we’re true to ourselves and our purpose, remain lawful and responsible, there is no reason to fear controversy. There will always be naysayers – we need to let that be their issue – not ours.

Consistency creates trust – It’s true. Consistency creates trust because we demonstrate that we fulfill our ‘value proposition’ time and time again. Those people who we choose to serve – in any capacity – come to believe that their expectations will be met on a consistent basis. Those who find our value relevant, take comfort in knowing that they will receive the same value in every encounter. We become a ‘known commodity’ – eliminating the need to perpetually ‘sell ourselves’. Ingrid Newkirk consistency has created strong trust – her supporters know that she will always be a champion for animal rights. Her opponents have come to trust that she will never shy away from her beliefs. Both of those scenarios are positive.

Ingrid Newkirk, while controversial, is without question, a fearless brand. Regardless of how we perceive her, we can learn from her traits. We too have the opportunity to embrace our passion, live our purpose, and enjoy the fulfillment and success that results.


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Coach, International Speaker and Thought Partner - Bill’s mission is to add value to the world – one brand at a time. Bill guides individuals and companies alike in building what he refers to as a ‘fearless brand’. This is the process of discovering, embracing and delivering their greatest value – which allows them to realize greater profit. Read More

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