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PETA interns' barefaced support of animal rights

Not for any of it, not for the naked parts, not for when they're smeared in fake blood and wrapped in cellophane like packaged poultry. (A newspaper in Memphis ran a little commentary on that demo; claimed that PETA would never treat cows the way they treat interns.)

This devotion makes some people believe that the interns are crazy.

For instance, Lydia Netzer lives next door to the PETA intern house down in Norfolk. Netzer used to have an indoor-outdoor cat. PETA has concerns about outdoor cats.

"It seemed like every time a new intern moved in, they would come over and say they needed to talk to me about the dangers of cats living outside. I would have this parade of pierced, tattooed vegans at my door. In a way it's like, 'Oh, they're so cute. They're all 20 years old and super-faithful true believers.' "

For six months, Netzer tried to keep Hoity inside, but he began clawing the furniture, "pooping all over things," and going, as far as Netzer could tell, completely insane. When she would put him out again, some or another intern would stop by again, implying, she says, that Hoity might be happier and safer in a shelter. Afraid that the PETA interns would take her cat, she eventually had him put to sleep.

A PETA spokesman says that the interns had seen the cat "have close calls" with cars in the neighborhood.

Now, months after the incident, Netzer says she can sympathize with the PETA interns. Sort of. "It's an emotional thing for them," she says. "They're constantly looking at images of animals being tortured."

The PETA interns have a way of making you feel bad, not like they're doing it on purpose. But like in talking to them you suddenly remember everything you've ever read on factory farming and on how pigs are supposed to be very affectionate, like dogs. In a time when going green is not just trendy but mainstream, the PETA interns make you want to explain that your shoes might look like leather but they're totally fake.

Making 'that difference'

Another day, another demo. Today Jaye is dressed as a chicken and Wortham is dressed as a big, blobby chicken nugget, but the costume looks like a goldfish and people keep getting confused. Moore carries a tray of free vegan drumsticks as they walk through Farragut Square. "Tastes just like chicken."

A dude walks past and yells, "We like meat. We're going to Morton's."

But most people are excited about the drumsticks. Moore gets into a discussion with one guy who seems really interested in the health benefits of being a vegetarian.

"I know I'm going to make that difference with someone," Moore says in another conversation. "They won't know my name or how to get in touch with me." But he will have reached them.

The PETA interns are about hope, really. They are about that moment when all things seem possible, like a world where cats live indoors and cows live outdoors and everyone is healthier and shinier, with lovely teeth.

They have seen glimpses of that world, and they want to bring us, too, lead us all to the promised land flowing with milk and honey, except that when we get there it will flow with soy.

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