Lisa Lange's career in animal rights activism has come full circle.
Sixteen years ago, Lange went to Pennsylvania to protest a pigeon shoot, which landed her in prison for 12 days. She shared a cellblock with Ingrid Newkirk, cofounder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and was subsequently hired by the organization.
Officials at this year's Wimbledon tennis tournament were denounced by PETA - where Lange is now SVP of communications - for shooting pigeons that organizers say were a disruption to the matches. Hawks are deployed as the usual pigeon deterrent.
"It appealed to me that there was an organization that cared about all of these animals," recalls Lange.
Communications has played a key role in generating the amount of awareness that PETA enjoys. The group has a bicoastal operation working on communications: watching news, pitching news, and brainstorming ideas. Lange's LA location gives her access to the Hollywood players that help give the organization visibility; stars like Pamela Anderson have appeared in PETA ads and PSAs. Lange also makes media appearances on outlets like The O'Reilly Factor and Today.
"We're both workaholics," says Colleen O'Brien, PETA's director of communications, who is based in Norfolk, VA. "We sleep with our cell phones next to our heads."
PETA also spurs discussion with sometimes-outlandish campaigns to promote animal-friendly causes and its use of gruesome images of dead and mutilated animals to illustrate in blunt, unequivocal terms why it's taking a stand for animal rights.
"The number one thing we look at is how many animals are affected by a certain type of cruelty," says Lange. "You may not like our tactics, but you'll have a better understanding."
Many images appear on the Web, which has become a critical tool in PETA's activism. Not only does the medium allow the group to reach tons of people, it can show images and secret footage online that would never be allowed on TV.
"[We] show people what [is] behind the closed doors of factory farms, fur farms, and labs," says O'Brien. Lange adds, "Nothing convinces people to stop wearing fur like video of an animal being skinned alive."
PETA also uses speed to its advantage, says Lange, organizing a nimble response when a story breaks. To start, the response is muted, but can be ramped up if necessary.
"In every instance where we see cruelty to animals, we send a nice letter first," she explains. "Sometimes that letter will do the trick."
Horse racing incurred PETA's ire in May when a filly, Eight Belles, was euthanized on the track at Churchill Downs after being injured in the Kentucky Derby. The track's president has agreed to speak with PETA about horse safety. In April, the group also launched an ongoing $1 million search for the inventor who could create "in vitro chicken meat" as an alternative to the real thing and bring it to market.
"We try to make sure that everything we do, even if it seems over the top, makes sense," says Lange.
The fight goes on, but Lange sees the strides PETA has made since its founding in 1980.
"Fur is never coming back," she says. "We're now talking about leather and exotic skins. [More people are] ordering vegetarian starter kits [on] the Web site. There are now jokes on late-night TV about PETA. It's a mainstream movement."
PETA, SVP of comms
PETA, manager of inter-national campaigns
Animal Voice, reporter