Public Animal No.9 - PETA's "Ink Not Mink"

Published: 04 April, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 197, April, 2011

I had heard of PETA and their various print and public campaigns for years but it was only in 2009 when I read Dan’s memoir, “Committed”, that I learned about the man himself and what drove him to dedicate his life to this particular cause.

Thanks to its crazy and often brutally honest animal rights campaigns, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is now a global household name. Stunts such as storming the environmental Earth Summit dressed as cows and blood stained butchers or taking over the offices of Calvin Klein’s head offices in New York to protest against Klein’s use of fur, PETA has established itself as a maverick force to be reckoned with. But behind the daredevil campaigns, is a quiet and unassuming man that most people will not have heard of – Vice President, Dan Mathews.

As Dan puts it himself, he started out life as a ‘meat enthusiast’. Such was his love of all things meaty, his father who owned a diner, even named a meat dish after him - the ‘Danny Dog’. But it was two separate events that occurred when Dan was around fourteen that would change his views forever. “Although I grew up a fairly gleeful misfit, I was often dragged into traumatizing fights for being gay. One morning, I was rushing down the hallway between classes and some one yelled, ‘Faggot!’ and slugged me in the gut, sending me tumbling over with the wind knocked out of me. Stunned, I looked up to see a collection of chuckling faces as I lay there gasping for breath.”

This was the first event that would change his life, the second happened a few weeks later when Dan found himself on a fishing trip with his father. Dan was fishing when he felt a bite on his line. He reeled in his catch and when it was on the boat, another guy on the trip proceeded to tear the hook out of the fish’s mouth, causing blood to start pumping out everywhere. “Everybody was laughing but all I could think of was what the scene looked like from the flounder’s point of view. Stunned, the fish was looking up to see a collection of chuckling faces as he lay gasping for breath. In that instant, the flounder was the only creature on the boat I could relate to. I felt sick. I had become one of the terrorizing bullies I dreaded so much at school. Most people are sensitized to the plight of animals by cute, cuddly, four-legged balls of fur, whereas I sympathised with a rubbery bottom-feeder. I never ate fish again and gradually stopped eating anything with eyes, except for potatoes.”

Two separate events but one life changing shift and the birth of an animal rights activist. But it wasn’t so easy in the beginning, as Dan puts it, “I eagerly shared my new ideas of what it meant to be civilised with anyone who would listen – and plenty who wouldn’t. I was naively confident that everybody would grasp this simple, noble logic and adopt the same basic regard for fish and chickens as they had for dogs, cats and all the other animals with a heart, brain and nervous system. I might as well have been advocating rights for pet rocks.”

It was seven years later, that Dan would find himself working as a receptionist for a young organization called PETA and it was here that things really took a turn. Within a week Dan found himself and a hundred other protestors, taking over the grants office at the National Institutes of Health. From that first campaign, Dan was hooked. “I began the week as a receptionist and finished it feeling like a real revolutionary!”

So why did PETA turn into such an ‘in your face’ kind of organization? Why not carry on as other animal rights protestors had done before in the past?

“For many years I had pushed campaigns that appealed to people’s intellect and compassion but as cable TV and the internet began to mould a society more interested in entertainment than education, serious topics began to take a back seat to scandal and sensation. So we had to dream up flashier ways to compete for people’s attention. Of course, in doing so we often have had to make ourselves look quite silly which is fine by me because at heart I am a very silly person.”

And that was how PETA and Dan Mathews lives’ became entwined in one madcap campaign after another. One of the latest campaigns to hit the public squarely between the eyes, is their Ink Not Mink poster campaign. For this brilliant anti-fur campaign, PETA has sought out the most inked celebrities to get their kit off with the aim to bring an end to the fur trade. But before we moved on to the campaign, Dan sent me off to look at some of the online resources that PETA has gathered about the world fur trade. At this point, I never realised what I was in for.

“Fur farming is about one of the worst fates that can happen to an animal. As an industry it didn’t develop until the late 1800s, when fashion demands put market demands ahead of huntable supplies. The majority of the world’s fur farms are located in Northern Europe, with about 10% located in the United States. In pursuit of the perfect pelt, animals are bred and raised just to be killed for their skins. They are kept in crowded, minimally-sized cages or pens and then killed as soon as they develop the desired quality of coat. Anywhere from 10%-25% of the animals die from poor conditions or disease before they can be ‘harvested’.”

Sounds terrible but it gets worse, much worse. The most farmed animal is mink, followed by chinchillas and foxes. These animals are killed via just about any means possible, provided that the death does not damage the animals fur. Electrocution and drowning are frequently used options as both these methods leave the fur undamaged. Sadly, watching the Ink Not Mink videos online, I was quick to learn, that these two options pale into insignificance when you realise that a significant percentage of animals survive this ‘euthanasia’ and are then skinned while still alive.

So now, with a head full of images I wish I never had, I return to Dan and the Ink Not Mink campaign to find out more about how it all started. “I came up with the idea for the campaign after meeting Dennis Rodman at an MTV party in Miami. I had seen him in fur before and when we met I asked how such a cool guy could be a fur pimp. He told me the few times he’d worn it, it was fake, and that he loved animals and PETA’s style. So I asked him to be the first guy in our naked campaign. It was only when I saw his tattoos and amazing body I suggested he pose like Rodin’s famous “Thinker” statue and came up with the tagline “Think Ink Not Mink.” We met up in an LA studio a few weeks later and shot it, then Rodman came to NY to unveil it during Fashion Week and it became one of the most viewed photos on the web that week and an all round media sensation. After that response we decided to make it a series but without repeating the Rodin statue theme.”

Looking through the posters, I ask Dan why there is a lack of tattooed ladies represented and in true Dan style, though serious, the answer is laced with his quirky sense of humour. “We ended up doing mostly men for this because we already shot so many women for the
‘I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur’ campaign. We like to be equal opportunity nudists.”

Indeed, it is important to make sure that we all have a fair crack at being naked for the causes we believe in. Since the original Dennis Rodman shoot in 2005, many famous male personalities have stripped off to reveal their tattoos for the campaign. With actors, sport stars and tattooists amongst those on the list, no industry has been left uncovered. If you have tattoos and are famous, PETA will be onto you soon enough. As Dan says, “We recruit based on who we hear about with tattoos."

So has there been any that have got away from Dan’s clutches? “The one that got away is Amy Winehouse. We had a night on the town in Vegas last year and she told us she doesn’t wear fur and that she loved the campaign slogan. But we haven’t managed to pin her down for a shoot yet!” The way Dan works though, I am sure that missed opportunity will be rectified soon enough.

I ask Dan if he has any tattoos. I mean, being around all these tattoo covered people must have given an itching for a little ink himself. “I have a 777 tattoo on my arm. Like the sevens you get on the slot machines. It was in Las Vegas after a lucky pull on a slot machine. I had long wanted a tattoo but didn’t want anything I’d seen before and I liked the idea of having a good luck logo emblazoned on my arm. My mom says it counteracts the 666 I was born with on my skull.”

The sign of the devil or Lucky 7’s, whichever drives Dan to do what he does, it makes no difference in the long run. What is important, is the work PETA does and without Dan and his magic touch and crazy imagination, I don’t think PETA would be as effective in changing people’s perceptions as it has been.

“Being a nonconformist, I never imagined that I would have the same job for decades. A job that has entailed being carried off by police in my underwear at a fur expo in Hong Kong, impersonating a priest to crash a fashion show in Milan and donning a cow costume to storm a cattleman’s convention in Denver. I’ve conducted business meetings in settings ranging from a skinny-dipping party at the Playboy mansion to the office of the archbishop of Turin to an ornate box overlooking the Vienna Opera Ball. I’ve picked up the phone to get an angry earful from Madonna when I spoke out against her bullfighting-themed music videos. I’ve also picked up the phone to hear Sir Paul McCartney insisting we take the rest of the day off when he’d successfully pressured McDonald’s to stop buying meat from slaughterhouses that fail USDA inspection. It doesn’t matter that some people think we’re crazy. Most kids whose sense of justice has yet to be corrupted absorb the message. This has made animal rights a top concern for today’s youngsters.”

So even after being arrested, receiving death threats and once very nearly ended up being committed after a demonstration in Paris, I have a feeling that Dan is not ready to give up on animal rights just yet. Even more so, when campaigns like Ink Not Mink push PETA and their message, from strength to strength. And whatever is turning around in his head, slowly forming itself into a new approach to this important issue, you can bet, as serious as the subject matter will be - it is going to be one hell of a lot of fun!


Dennis Rodman

Dennis Rodman is where it all began on the Ink Not Mink campaign trail. Known for causing as big a controversy off the basketball court for his wardrobe, as he is on the court for his rebounding, Dennis Rodman was the perfect place to kick off PETA’s anti-fur campaign. Rodman played alongside Michael Jordan on three championship Chicago Bulls teams in the nineties. Yet he was better known for his eccentric and attention-hunting behaviour, especially his habit of changing hair colours weekly or daily and these same traits made him a media magnet.

On watching Pamela Anderson’s PETA video, showing how animals live and die before being made into fur coats and collars, Rodman said, “If you actually look at the video firsthand, it gives you a different perspective on animals and how they’re treated. It’s heart-wrenching to see what they go through! You get this sense of urgency that you have to help these animals out. I watched it and thought, that is a hard way to die! And it‘s not right to kill animals for our pleasure.”

Dave Navarro

Inspired by hearing a Hendrix song in a skate park when he was a kid, Dave Navarro, picked up a six string and in 1986, joined Jane’s Addiction as their guitarist. The band were successful around the world but ended up splitting up in 1991 due to personal tensions. On the back of NME’s ‘Godlike Genius Award for Services to Music’, Jane’s Addiction reunited again in 2008. The reunion and subsequent performance led to the band being contacted by Trent Reznor to collaborate. A double headlining tour by the band followed in 2009, cleverly branded the NIN/JA tour by fans.

A reformed fur-wearer, Navarro has sworn off fur since learning where it comes from, “There was a time in my life when I used to wear over the top outfits and some of those outfits contained fur. I was uneducated as to where it came from, I just thought it looked good. Several years ago I saw video footage of animals being skinned alive and screaming, and it honestly is the most horrific, inhumane thing I’ve ever seen. It‘s simple, just stay away from fur!”

Tommy Lee

Born in Athens, Greece, Lee’s family moved to California when he was only a year old. By the age of four, he had his first drum kit but he still had to wait awhile before he got his hands on some proper skins. It was during the late seventies while playing the Sunset Strip, with his current band Suite 19, that he met Nikki Sixx - not long after this initial meeting, Mick Mars and Vince Neil joined the band and Mötley Crüe was born.

Tommy Lee first learned about PETA through long time animal advocate, and ex-wife, Pamela Anderson. Says Lee in an interview with PETA, “I have actually been looking forward to getting involved. I get the PETA magazine and what the fur trade does to animals is absolutely terrifying. …  A lot of hip-hop artists wear fur, and they think it’s a status symbol. That doesn’t register for me, I just see
dead animals.”

Mario Barth

Growing up in Austria, where tattooing was not just frowned upon but completely illegal, he came up through the underground.  Now, with a celebrity clientele including Lenny Kravitz, Sylvester Stallone, Tommy Lee and Usher to name a few, Mario owns five tattoo studios including Mario Barth’s Starlight Tattoo at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas as well as his latest venture, King Ink at the Mirage.

“When someone wears fur, I’m gonna try and find out if that person knows how the animal got killed. Do you know they stick an electrical probe up the animals ass so they don’t damage the fur, so that you can look good? Animals are living beings with their own thought processes and feelings. They experience pain just like us.”

Ami James

Ami James’ face is known the world over for the hit series, Miami Ink. James is the co-owner of the tattoo studio, Love Hate Tattoos (Miami Ink is the name of the show, not the shop) in Miami Beach, Florida where he is also the co-owner of the clothing company DeVille with Chris Nunez and Jesse Fleetand has an investment in Love Hate Choppers Jewellery, with Boston jeweller Larry Weymouth.

His feelings about the fur industry are so strong that Ami flatly refused to create a design for Roberto Cavalli Vodka after finding out that Cavalli uses fur in his lines. And his commitment to animals tortured and skinned for their fur doesn’t stop there—Ami has implemented Miami’s first-ever fur-free policy at his bar, Love Hate. “I think it is really up to the youth to make a change. The younger generation really need to get interested in how to make this planet a better place, how to treat animals better, how not to wear fur and mink!”

Carey Hart

Carey Hart is one of the most recognized names in all of freestyle motocross. In 1998, the freestyle motocross movement was born with Hart leading the way. Hart etched his name in the record books as the first rider ever to complete a back flip on a 250cc motorcycle. In 2004 Hart’s passion for tattoos turned into a business venture. Hart & Huntington Tattoo Company opened their doors in the Palms Casino, Las Vegas. This move lead to another TV opportunity for Hart when the A&E network decided to follow him and the workings of the shop in their own reality show: INKED.

He credits his wife, Pink, with educating him about animal rights. “My wife is very big into PETA and being involved with her over the years, she raised my awareness. And I’m big into how animals are treated, so anything I can do on my part to help I do. It’s just ridiculous—you know, it’s like you’re gonna destroy animals so that you can look cool in a nightclub or you can look cool walking down the street in New York. I don’t get behind that. I think it’s very petty and very shallow."


Text: Trent Aitken-Smith; Photography: PETA & As Credited