If PETA has problems with something as innocent as an esteemed dog show, does that mean the day-to-day goings on at the University of South Dakota could one day be suddenly interrupted?
The Associated Press reports that two two intruders turned the center ring at the Westminster Dog Show held in New York earlier this week into their own platform.
It meant that Sadie the Scottish terrier had to patiently wait before receiving her best of show honors at Westminster Tuesday night, because of a startling protest inspired by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
Shortly before judge Elliott Weiss picked Sadie, a pair of well-dressed women walked into the big ring at Madison Square Garden and held signs over their heads that said "Mutts Rule" and "Breeders Kill Shelter Dogs' Chances," the latter a slogan popularized by PETA.
The crowd of 15,000 gasped at the sudden protest, booed the women and then cheered as a half-dozen security guards ushered them away without incident.
PETA members Dana Sylvester and Hope Round were charged with criminal trespass, police said. They acted on their own, the organization said, but it supported them.
The interruption lasted about a minute and came between judging of a Doberman pinscher and brittany. Moments later, 4-year-old Sadie climbed the best in show podium where one of the women had stood.
"I thought it was well-controlled by our people," Westminster spokesman David Frei said, without elaborating. Frei, the host of USA Network's coverage, is a veteran of the show world and a longtime advocate of therapy and rescue dogs.
There have been previous PETA protests at Westminster, but none nearly so dramatic. During every day of the show, the public-address announcer at the Garden reads an announcement urging people to visit shelters and adopt their dogs.
PETA contends the focus on purebreds leaves many mutts homeless. In a statement, vice president Daphna Nachminovitch said "euthanasia becomes a sad necessity."
If PETA will knowingly break the law to get the same message across that Westminster officials repeatedly share with their audience, what could happen on the USD campus?
This is an open-ended question on our part, because frankly, we don't know. We doubt that local law enforcement or university offiicials can answer this question, either.
PETA filed a complaint in First Circuit Court in Vermillion Wednesday, Feb. 3, seeking information from the University of South Dakota and the South Dakota Board of Regents about experiments conducted on animals by researchers on campus.
PETA is claiming that the Regents and USD are violating South Dakota's open-records law. In a press release issued shortly after the legal complaint was filed, PETA states that USD administrators have failed to provide PETA with documents related to the university's taxpayer-funded experiments on monkeys.
"It has to basically do with keeping people informed," said Caitlin Collier, a Vermillion attorney representing PETA in this court action. "That's part of their mandate as an organization. I see this really as one of the first tests of the new open records law (in South Dakota). The Legislature has finally changed the law to more of a presumption of openness. That's really at the heart of the lawsuit — to try to clarify what that new law means."
We must admit, as a business whose goal is to gather information, that we are interested to see how the state's open records law will be interpreted as this court action proceeds.
We hope the focus remains in the courts.
PETA, however, has demonstrated that it isn't interested solely in filing lawsuits to get its point across.
And, frankly, that concerns us.PETA claims that a researcher at USD conducts what it describes as "terribly painful" experiments on monkeys.
"USD has squandered millions of taxpayer dollars to conduct these terribly painful experiments, and now the university wants to waste more money to hide what happened," said PETA Vice President of Laboratory Investigations Kathy Guillermo in a press release issued earlier this month. "Citizens have a right to know how public institutions are spending taxpayer money and how these facilities are treating animals — especially when their actions may constitute violations of the law."
PETA claims that a USD researcher has "for years has drilled holes into the skulls of monkeys and caused them to suffer strokes by clamping shut a blood vessel in their brains. The injured animals are then observed as they struggle to grasp food. … (the) experiments also include attaching electrodes to the brains of restrained monkeys in order to provoke uncontrollable facial and body movements in the animals. The monkeys are killed at the end of these experiments, and their brains and spinal cords are removed and dissected."
"Everything that we've stated is based on information we've gleaned from… grant applications to the National Institute of Health," Justin Goodman, research supervisor in PETA's laboratory investigation department, based in Washington, DC, told the Vermillion Plain Talk.
"The focus of this lawsuit is that the university itself is refusing to turn over documents that would include more details not only about the experiments but also what happened to these individual animals that were used in this project," he said. "This is a project that is being funded by taxpayers."
Our court system serves as a way for organization's like PETA to peacefully seek information. They have every right to avail themselves of the legal remedies the system offers.
In the meantime, we urge PETA, despite its rather well-known penchant for seeking extreme measures to gain attention, ranging from urging some people to do rather violent things, like burning buildings, to the simple, but disruptive act of protesting at a peaceful dog show, to cool it.
It's a ridiculous request, we know. But Vermillion is a nice, peace-loving, quiet town. It would be nice to simply be left alone.
We hope the recent dog show incident isn't a sign of things to come for our community.