Don Kimball is an animal-rights activist with Peace and Justice for Animals who has worked around the country since 1989 to protect animals.

SFR: What is Peace and Justice for Animals?

DK: We’re a small, grassroots organization that is looking to get people involved in the helping of

animals. There are lots of animal-protection groups in the state but, as they’ve grown, they’re getting

less and less grassroots. They’ve done some amazing work that needs to be done in the Legislature and things like that, but what we do is the hitting-the-streets, handing-out-fliers kind of thing.

What are some of the issues you’re working on right now?

With the cold weather coming up, of course, people are going to start bringing out their furs. What a lot of people don’t know is that they’ve actually found dog hair in trim that’s supposed to be synthetic. The Humane Society of the United States did a huge investigation back about a year ago into dogs being raised in China specifically for their fur. A lot of times, the animals are being skinned while they’re still alive. So that’s what we do, just to try and educate people about this kind of behavior so they won’t take part in it. We hope that if people knew, they’d stop. There are certainly some people that think fur is still fashionable, but it’s not worth it or necessary in this day and age.

How do people react to your activism?

A lot of times, when you approach people they’ll say, ‘Well, it’s our culture,’ but it’s still cruelty to animals. What Paul Watson [of the animal rights group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society] says, and what a lot of people say, is that ‘culture is no excuse for cruelty.’ In New Mexico, for example, we have diverse cultures, and with that comes a certain amount of cruelty. It’s accepted as just the way it is, but I think we need to change that attitude.

What are some of the issues that are specific to New Mexico?

Well, it’s not specifically a New Mexico thing, but not spaying or neutering your animals is a huge problem here, so is letting animals run loose. Of course, the cockfighting has been stopped and dogfighting is illegal, however, those things still go on, they’ve just moved more underground. I just saw a bumper sticker the other day that said, ‘If they take away our cockfighting, next it will be our Bill of Rights.’ It’s just totally ridiculous, but people tend to band together to defend what is not defendable just because it happens in their particular culture. Communities need to build bridges between our cultures and communicate with each other. If we could do that, we could do a lot to help the animals.

How does Peace and Justice for Animals get out there to educate people?

We do things like ‘Fur Free Friday,’ where we go to the Plaza and hand out leaflets and fliers to customers and anyone who walks by. We’ve done workshops for people and sometimes go into schools to talk to kids directly about how to be aware.

What’s been the biggest thing to bring awareness to animal rights in the last few years?

It’s a mixed bag, but [Hurricane] Katrina did a lot. The biggest thing to come out of that is some legislation that was passed that enables people who have to evacuate to take their animals with them. There was case upon case of people who were evacuating with animals in their arms who were told, ‘We can take you, but we can’t take your animal.’ This resulted in the deaths of many animals and, in some cases, of people who didn’t leave because they couldn’t take their pets with them.

What can people do day-to-day to help animals?

The biggest thing is to look at your, not carbon footprint, but maybe your animal footprint to see what you can do in your life. It’s as easy as the food you put in your mouth. The number of factory farms has dramatically increased in this country and the conditions that the animals are kept in is unspeakable. With chickens it’s especially bad because there are chickens, which lay eggs, whose feet never touch the ground in their whole lives. Chickens are very social animals, so people can buy things like free-range eggs where the animals aren’t kept in a cage like that.

But isn’t free-range sometimes sketchy because it’s still a pretty tiny amount of space?

Yes. The standards—I think they vary from state to state—aren’t always ideal. To really be sure, you just don’t eat those things at all. Being a vegan is the best thing you can do for the animals and the planet.

Is it hard to go vegan?

It’s a transition. Most people can’t go from a meat-based diet to a vegan diet overnight, but it’s so much easier than it was even 10 years ago. Of course, what you wear is important too. Leather is so prevalent, but there are ways around wearing that.

What has changed in the animal-rights movement since you began in the ’80s?

As America grays and we get older and the family unit has broken up as we all move away from each other, animals have become more of a part of the family than they had been in past years. It’s important to get the right kind of pet. It’s hard for a single person to have a dog because dogs are such social animals and need a lot of attention. People need to think about those kinds of things before they go get a pet, whether they can really take care of their animals. The biggest thing, though, is just to spay and neuter your animals so that the shelters aren’t overflowing with animals.