Alex Pacheco (activist)

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Alex Pacheco
Born August 1958 (age 60)
Joliet, Illinois
Nationality American
Alma mater Ohio University[verification needed]
Known for Animal rights advocacy
Founder, 600 Million Stray Dogs Need You
Co-founder, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
Parent(s) Jimmy and Mary Pacheco
Awards U.S. Animal Rights Hall of Fame (2001)

The Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience (1995)

Sea Shepherd Crew Member of the Year (1979)

Alexander Fernando Pacheco (born August 1958) is an American animal rights activist. He is founder of 600 Million Stray Dogs Need You, co-founder and former chairman of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and a member of the advisory board of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.[1]

Pacheco first crewed with Captain Paul Watson in 1979 on the ship Sea Shepherd across the Atlantic Ocean, during a campaign of opposition to the Sierra, a Portuguese pirate whale-killing ship. Both The Sea Shepherd and the Sierra were sunk after being seized by the Portuguese authorities.

Pacheco came to wider public attention in 1981 for his role, along with Ingrid Newkirk, in what became known as the Silver Spring monkeys case, a campaign to release 17 crab-eating macaques who were undergoing experiments in the Institute of Behavioral Research in Silver Spring, Maryland. Oliver Stone writes that the political campaign to save the monkeys gave birth to the animal rights movement in the United States.[2]

Early life and education

Pacheco was born in Joliet, Illinois, but moved to Mexico with his family when he was very young, where he and his two siblings were raised near the ocean by his Mexican father, a physician, and his mother, an American nurse. Kathy Snow Guillermo writes in Monkey Business (1993) that Pacheco's early life was filled with animals; bats lived in the rubber trees in his front yard, snakes slept behind nearby rocks, and fishermen regularly dragged dolphins out of the water onto the beach. Instead of animals being killed for food in slaughterhouses, pigs, oxen, chickens, and turkeys were frequently killed in front of him.[3][full citation needed]

The family left Mexico when Pacheco was in junior high, and moved between Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. His interest in animals continued. He bought turtles and birds from pet stores, and a baby crab-eating macaque, whom he called Chi Chi and who would perch on his shoulder as he walked around the house.[3]

He attended Catholic university in Ohio, intending to enter the priesthood, but while in Canada in his first year at university, he visited a friend who worked at a meat-packing plant. Guillermo writes that he was shocked by the sight of two men throwing a newborn calf, cut from the uterus of its slaughtered mother, into a dumpster. Later in the week, a friend gave him a copy of Peter Singer's Animal Liberation, and he returned to Ohio as a vegetarian. His heart was no longer in becoming a priest, and he decided to attend Ohio University[verification needed] in Athens, Ohio instead to devote himself to helping what he called "other-than-human beings."[3]


Sea Shepherd

At university, Pacheco organized campaigns against the use of leghold traps and castrating pigs and cattle without anesthetic. Guillermo writes that, as Ohio is an agricultural state, his activism met with stiff opposition and the occasional anonymous telephone call threatening to blow his head off.[3]

In 1979, he attended a talk in Columbus, Ohio by Cleveland Amory of the Saturday Review, who was also the founder of the Fund for Animals, which funded the anti-whaling vessel, the Sea Shepherd. He sought Amory out after the talk and volunteered. Pacheco first crewed with Paul Watson on the ship for the summer in 1979 (and again in 2003), in the bridge, the engine room and as a deckhand, during the Sea Shepherd's first whale protection campaign, known as The Sierra Campaign, across the Atlantic, which ended with both the Sea Shepherd and the Sierra being sunk, in Portugal in 1980.[3]

Silver spring monkeys case

One of the photographs Pacheco took inside the Institute of Behavioral Research, 1981

The Silver Spring monkeys case began in 1981, when Pacheco took a job as a volunteer inside the Institute of Behavioral Research in Silver Spring, Maryland. Edward Taub, a psychologist, was cutting sensory ganglia that supplied nerves to the fingers, hands, arms, and legs of 17 macaque monkeys – a process known as "deafferentation" – so that the monkeys could not feel them. (Some of them had had their entire spinal columns deafferented.) Taub used restraint and electric shock to force the monkeys to use the limbs they could not feel.[4] He discovered that, when motivated by extreme hunger or the desire to avoid electric shock, they could be induced to use their deafferented limbs.[5] The research led in part to the discovery of neuroplasticity within the primate motor system and a new therapy for stroke victims called constraint-induced movement therapy that helped restore the use of affected limbs.[6]

Pacheco reported Taub for violations of animal cruelty laws based on the animals' living conditions. (Norman Doidge has alleged that Pacheco staged some of the photographs that he took, an allegation that has never been proven.[6]) Police raided the lab, seized the monkeys – which they then handed over to PETA, a move that resulted in their temporary disappearance – and charged Taub with 119 counts of animal cruelty and failure to provide adequate veterinary care, the first such charges brought in the United States against a research scientist. 113 charges were dismissed at the first court hearing.[6] Taub was initially convicted on six misdemeanor counts of failure to provide adequate veterinary care. Five convictions were dismissed after a second trial, and the final conviction was overturned on appeal when the court ruled that Maryland's Prevention of Cruelty to Animals law did not apply to researchers.[4]

The legal battle for custody of the monkeys, following their removal by PETA, reached the United States Supreme Court. It was the first animal-rights case to do so, though the newly formed PETA ultimately failed in its battle to secure the animals' release.[7] The proceedings, which lasted years, generated a large amount of publicity for PETA, transforming it from what Ingrid Newkirk called "five people in a basement" into a national movement.[8] As a result of the case, the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Science, Research and Technology held hearings that led to the 1985 Animal Welfare Act,[9] and in 1986 changes in United States Public Health Service guidelines for animals used in animal research included a requirement that each institution seeking federal funding have an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee whose job it is to oversee how laboratory animals within that institution are cared for.[4]


The Peace Abbey, of Sherborn, MA, awarded Alex Pacheco the Courage of Conscience award in 1995.[10] In 2001, Pacheco was inducted into the US Animal Rights Hall of Fame.[11]

See also


  1. Stone, Oliver. Foreword in Guillermo, Kathy Snow. Monkey Business: The Disturbing Case That Launched the Animal Rights Movement. National Press Books, 1993.
  2. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Guillermo 1993, pp. 30-33.
  3. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Carlson, Peter. "The Great Silver Spring Monkey Debate", The Washington Post magazine, February 24, 1991: "Scientists had first deafferented monkeys in the 1890s in order to study how the nervous system controls movement. They observed that the monkeys no longer used their deafferented limbs and concluded that voluntary movement is impossible in the absence of feeling - a conclusion that became a law of neuroscience. But in the late '50s, Taub and other researchers began to doubt that conclusion. They tested it by deafferenting monkeys and then forcing them to use their deafferented arms by putting a straitjacket on their good arms or by putting the animals in restraining chairs and giving them electric shocks if they didn't use the numb arms. Under duress, the monkeys did use the numb arms, thus disproving a basic tenet of neuroscience."
  4. Franks, David D. (2008). "The Controversy of Mind Over Matter". In Salvo, James; Washington, Myra. Studies in Symbolic Interaction. Emerald Group Publishing. p. 68. ISBN 9781848551251.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Doidge, Norman. The Brain That Changes Itself. Viking Penguin, 2007, p. 141.
  6. Newkirk, Ingrid. Free the Animals. Lantern, 2000.
  7. Schwartz, Jeffrey and Begley, Sharon. The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force. HarperCollins, 2002 p. 161.
  8. Food Security Act of 1985 subtitle F
  9. The Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Recipients List at the Wayback Machine (archived February 7, 2009).
  10. U.S. Animal Rights Hall of Fame.

Further reading