Animal rights activist and author Karen Dawn visits MU

Tuesday, February 17, 2009 | 8:25 p.m. CST; updated 10:45 a.m. CST, Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Karen Dawn reads a passage from her book, “Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way We Treat Animals,” during a lecture at MU’s University Bookstore on Tuesday. If people change their behavior out of fear or embarrassment, the changes will only be temporary, she said. “The key is to get people to really think about the issue.”

COLUMBIA – Over 70 people gathered Tuesday afternoon in the MU Bookstore to hear author and animal rights activist Karen Dawn speak about her new book "Thanking the Monkey", a 400-page book covering animal rights issues such as slaughterhouses and pet ownership.

Many of the attendees were past or present students of MU art instructors Daria Kerridge and Jessica Keiser. Kerridge and Keiser encouraged students to attend in order to gain a better understanding of how art can be used to promote a cause.  "Thanking the Monkey" features over 160 reprints of artwork and comics from artists and illustrators such as: Anthony Freda, Linda Frost, Patrick McDonnell, Dan Reynolds and Dan Piraro.


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In writing the book, Dawn wanted to try to dispel the idea that all animal rights activists are "radical and unreasonable." 

"You can get people to change their ways by yelling at them or scaring them," she said "whereas, if you can persuade people to change their ways, they are with you for good."

The book is targeted at the "18- to 35-year-old celebrity-driven market" and features endorsements from celebrities such as Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bill Maher, Gloria Steinem and Bruce Greenwood. Dawn said that she has garnered extensive support from the celebrity and Hollywood communities.

In November 1999, Dawn started the Web site to give the media feedback on what she thought of their coverage when it came to animal rights reporting. Much of the research in her book stems from the reading and research that she has done for  The book contains citations and references to hundreds of sources including numerous articles from The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Dawn's presentation lasted about 40 minutes, during which she read excerpts from the book and showed an electronic slideshow of the comics and artwork included in the book. The artwork and illustrations were included to lighten the brunt of some of the stories and graphic photos that appear in the book. Dawn said that a graphic story or photo would only appear if it was alongside someone famous or a fun photo. 

"People say that they laugh and cry when they read the book," Dawn said.

Melissa Morehead, a freshman majoring in animal sciences at MU, attended the presentation and signing as part of Kerridge's class. She plans on studying large animal veterinary science and hopes that Dawn's book will help her consider some of the issues involved in medical research on animals.

"I am just trying to get the word out ... I am just trying to get animal issues to be part of the public dialog," Dawn said.

Ultimately, Dawn hopes that the book will legitimize the animal rights movement, but she does not want to force anything on her readers. "People can choose for themselves how much they get involved."

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skippy gray February 19, 2009 | 11:48 a.m.

I bet she fails to say that the father of the animal rights movement is Peter Singer. Singer is like a "GOD" to the animal rights movement. Singer is famous for trying to remove the taboo against sexual contact between humans and animals. Singers views are considered "contempt for humanity." Disability- rights activist Stephen Drake said it best when he said that "Singer gives a rational veneer to what is actually a genocidal agenda."

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Kevin Gamble February 24, 2009 | 11:58 a.m.

Skippy Gray's comment is ludicrous. It's like saying the Inquisition is the only inspiration for modern Christianity. Animal rights, like any ideal, comes from a variety of inspirations and manifests in many ways. I am a strong advocate of animal rights, and I don't even know who Peter Singer is. Perhaps is Skippy spent less time bemoaning extremists and more time learning, he'd be less bitter and more informed.

And in any case, the most exteme animal-rights activist activities are positively mild compared to what our society does to animals every day in the name of nothing more than convenience and consumption beyond need. Spend some time in a slaughterhouse, factory farm, or animal-testing laboratory for a few weeks and then see how "normal" our everyday routines are. There's nothing more extreme than what goes into how most people feed and clothe themselves every day.

What people like "skippy" continually fail to grasp is that it's possible to care for more than one thing at a time--respect for animals doesn't equal contempt for humanity. To love humanity with contempt for everything else is amoral. The concept of animal rights, like environmentalism, is simply based on the notion that every living thing has its own value--not just the too-cheap human-centered one we so casually apply to the world around us.

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