November 10, 2008
A Veterinarian Activist
by Julie Hauserman
Growing up on an Oregon farm, Larry Peetz, DVM, trapped and hunted animals and sold their fur. Like many people in his rural community, he was raised to view animals as commodities.
But when he went to school to become a large animal veterinarian, Peetz took a field trip that changed his life. Touring a slaughterhouse, he experienced animal suffering in a way he hadn’t before.
An Activist is Born
From that day forward, his path was clear: he would dedicate himself to animal protection and welfare.
“As a veterinarian, I thought if I raised my voice and said, ‘This is inhumane and wrong,’ it might get more attention,” Peetz said. “A lot of veterinarians don’t want to get involved because of their perception that it will have an economic impact on their careers.
“My assumption was that people would expect a veterinarian to take the side of a critter and not the side of a pocketbook.”
Honing the Message
Nine years after he graduated from Washington State University veterinary school, Peetz became the first veterinarian to join Greenpeace activists in a 1979 trip to Newfoundland to protest the commercial slaughter of baby Harp seals.
He was arrested, charged with interfering with commerce on the high seas, and jailed for a few weeks.
In the years since, Peetz has used his experience as a veterinarian to speak against animal suffering in the halls of the Oregon Legislature in Salem.
He’s also a member of the leadership council for the newly formed Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association.
The association was created in January 2008 when The Humane Society United States and the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights joined forces to address animal welfare policies and offers hands-on care across the globe.
“My message to veterinarians is that it is time for them to get on the right side of the issue,” Peetz said. “We’re at one of those points were we can make a significant difference in moving forward on animal welfare issues.
“These are issues that reflect on us as a people. It has to be a cultural change that’s going to really impact things, and I believe we are at that point now.”
From Barns to the State Capitol
Over the years, Peetz has testified before the Oregon Legislature to protest the cruelty involved in hunting animals in fenced enclosures, hunting cougars with hounds, captive elk farming, animal fighting, and intensive confinement methods at factory farms.
“With his combined passion and veterinary expertise, Dr. Peetz is a powerful voice in his field, and he leads the way in veterinary advocacy for animals,” said Kelly Peterson, Oregon lobbyist for The HSUS.
Peetz has twice campaigned to ban the use of steel-jawed leg-hold traps in Oregon. During the first attempt in 1980, Peetz said his view—that the traps were inhumane and caused unnecessary animal suffering—was at odds with positions held by the American Veterinary Medical Association and most veterinarians at that time.
He tried again in 2000—traveling around the state to speak on the issue and writing opinion pieces for the Oregon media—without the measure passing.
Up to the Halls of Congress
These days, he’s taking his animal welfare advocacy to the next level: Congress. Earlier this year, he attended the Taking Action for Animals Conference in Washington, DC, where he got the chance to sit down with his Congressional representatives.
“It was one of the best conferences I have ever gone to, and I have gone to a lot of conferences,” he said. “You walk away a changed person.”
Peetz said the conference, presented by The HSUS, inspired him in his fight to get the inhumane leg-hold traps banned once and for all. It also left him newly dedicated to spreading the word about the globalization of factory farming, which has strayed so far from the type of farming he grew up with.
“It is shocking,” he said. “I can’t imagine that, if people actually understood what’s going on in terms of factory farming, that they would be able to continue to support that industry,” he said.
“I live and practice in Oregon’s capital city, so it’s been relatively easy for me to be involved in the state legislative process,” he said. “But I had not been as involved on the national level. The HSUS’ tutoring on the legislative process made it much easier for me to interact with our Congressional representatives.
“My advice is: get involved, get informed, and make your voice heard. It’s so easy to be involved today, with our easy communications and all the information that’s available on the Internet. The tools are there; it just takes a little effort and a little time. You have access to your representatives and their staff.
“Join an organization that has some leadership and some direction. Understand the issue. In the animal welfare world, we get accused of being emotional, so it is important to know the facts.
“We’re at a point right now where The HSUS is providing leadership. Over 10 million Americans feel, to some degree, the same way on important animal welfare issues. It’s a turning point. I’m in my early sixties, and I feel like I’ve still got a lot to contribute."