A Fur-Sure Warrior's PETA Peeve

IT’S THE KIND OF EVENT THAT WARMS Kathleen Marquardt’s heart. “Look how excited they are,” she says of the children lining up to ride an elephant and then filing into the Washington, D.C., armory for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. “I love seeing the kids’ faces.”

Marquardt has kids herself—Shane, 17, and Montana, 16, as well as Shy An the skunk and Charlie the cockatiel. More to the point, she is the head of Putting People First (PPF), a grass-roots organization made up of men and women who, without apology, eat meat, wear leather and fur, hunt and fish, benefit from biomedical research using animals and relish zoos and circus animals. Which are things, according to Marquardt, that animal rights activists—among them People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), her bête noir—want to eliminate.

In fact, Marquardt, 48, has come to the circus grounds this particular evening to mount a counterprotest against animal activists, some of whom are wearing fake balls-and-chains around their legs and chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, animal acts have got to go.” They distributed fliers charging, among other things, that elephants are chained in filthy railroad cars during transport.

Marquardt shakes her head. “Think about it,” she says. “If you have an elephant that costs $100,000, you don’t abuse it.” What’s more, she maintains, “Animals live much longer in the circuses than they do in the wild. These animals are taken care of—they’re treated like pets.”

As little as 2½ years ago, PETA’s accusations would have gone unanswered. Indeed, animal rights was a subject that Marquardt, a Washington clothing and fabric designer, had given little thought to. That is, until her younger daughter, then a seventh grader, told her that someone from PETA had come to her junior high school in Bethesda, Md., and said that Marquardt, who had spent her childhood among animals in Montana, was a murderer because, as the daughter had mentioned, she liked to hunt.

“I got outraged,” recalls Marquardt, who immediately immersed herself in animal-rights literature. “The more I read,” she says, “the madder I got and the more determined to do something about it.”

Finding no organization willing to slug it out with PETA, she decided to start her own. She remembers turning to her husband, tax attorney Bill Wewer, who, conveniently, specializes in laws governing the establishment of nonprofit associations, and saying, “Guess what? It’s our turn.” Wewer, it turned out, was primed for action. He had helped set up the Doris Day Animal League in the mid-’80s and says he was distressed to hear that Day had said in a report that AIDS drug experiments should be done on murderers rather than small animals.

PPF was born in March 1990, and Marquardt, in her first public appearance, faced one of her toughest audiences: Montana’s class. Marquardt says one or two of the kids, spotting her borrowed raccoon coat, said, “Ohh, you murderer!”—until she asked, “How many of you are wearing leather shoes?” Most of them were, says Marquardt, who then added, “What’s the difference?”

These days, Marquardt, whose father was a civil engineer in the Navy and whose mother was a housewife, speaks several times a week. She also lobbied for the recently enacted federal law that imposes stiff new penalties on people who engage in violent activity in animal-related facilities.

Never mind that PPF has just 35,000 members to PETA’s 350,000. The fledgling organization has taken over Marquardt’s life. Eight PPF workers operate out of her artfully decorated neo-Victorian northwest Washington home. The garage contains photocopying and postage machinery, while the basement is given over to The People’s Agenda, a newsletter that advertises bumper stickers urging activities like SAVE A CHICKEN, FRY AN ACTIVIST.

The activists are not amused. “PPF is an abusers-rights movement,” says Ingrid Newkirk, national director of PETA. “They do not want people to make humane choices. It’s Neanderthal and it’s degrading.”

Marquardt remains undaunted by her critics. She plans to keep PPF going even after her family’s hoped-for move back to Montana, where man is widely recognized for the predator she believes him to be. There she hopes to return to the good life—which means “hunting and fishing and, of course, having enough room for lots of animals.”



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