ALL OVER AMERICA, in places expected and unexpected, animals are treated with appalling, sickening cruelty -- tortured and killed in the name of science, or worse, entertainment. Every day animals are bruised and battered, given electric shocks, neglected, starved, mutilated, poisoned and murdered by people who apparently believe that because animals aren't human, they can't suffer.

Animal Rights is an overview of the horrifying things done to animals when they are raised in factory farms, hunted, trapped, experimented on, used by rodeos, circuses, movie-makers and television shows, and kept in second-rate zoos or as pets by second-rate people.

The book is presented as the first-person experiences of seven imaginary people: a first-year medical student, a lawyer, a college student, an illustrator, a veterinarian, a zoo-keeper, and an ASPCA law-enforcement officer. The fact that these protagonists are imaginary is the book's most serious flaw. A foreword states, "The animal defenders who tell their stories in this book are all fictional people, but their experiences and observations are based on true events or authentic situations." Nevertheless, the book is so hysterical, so biased in tone that one is tempted to believe that what it describes is as imaginary as its protagonists are; the very serious problem of animal abuse thus seems exaggerated.

The chapter on zoos presents as typical situations which no zoo would tolerate. The reader is supposed to believe that zoo animals are kept in "misery and monotony." Curtis writes that "millions of people stare at zoo animals without realizing the stress and suffering that characterizes the lives of most of them." Nonsense! Modern zoology is devoted to conservation and to creating naturalistic habitats and good lives for the animals in a zoo's care. Consequently most zoo animals live twice as well and almost twice as long as they would in the wild. There may indeed be "vicious little roadside zoos where a few half-dead beasts are caged in squalid misery," but if such places do exist they are rarities, not the commonplaces Animal Rights would have readers believe. In the final chapter, Curtis states that humane zoos are few, and that zoo animals "must be protected from . . . zoo directors." These statements are pure and simple falsehoods.

The rest of the book seems as sloppily researched and overwritten as its chapter on zoos. The chapter on family pets, for instance, implies the most pets are treated with "cruelty, neglect, or simple ignorance," and states out-right that people who treat their pets kindly "are the minority." I doubt it very much! Elsewhere, the book speaks of "fun furs" as if they were made of real fur instead of that endangered species, the synthetic Dynel.

Curtis speaks approvingly of breaking an entering and theft in the name of animal protection, and presents two conservation activists who run away the first time they meet real opposition.

Cruelty to animals is a dreadful problem, and Curtis provides a harrowing catalogue of the many different ways it can occur. Her book's worth is its emphasis on the great need for society to become more conscious of animals as living beings. Its weakness is that, in attempting to do enough, it leans too far in the other direction, and falls into inaccuracy and exaggeration.