News & Politics

My First Time . . . Getting Arrested

Katie Arth shares her tale of a career first.

Photograph by Sean McCormick.

As told to Michael Gaynor.

In September 2009, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals organized a demonstration in front of the Canadian Embassy to protest that country’s seal slaughter. I and two other people were dressed in white seal suits that we’d poured fake blood on.

I had only worked for PETA for about three months, which is why I was the person in the seal suit. But even with the costumes, we didn’t seem to be getting enough attention. I wanted to do more.

We decided to crawl into the crosswalk and not get up. We were in the street for about five minutes before the police came. When they asked us to move, I decided not to. I could only think about videos I’d seen of baby seals being clubbed to death, imagining myself in that position, how horrifying it would be.

One officer came over and took off my seal head and my seal hands and cuffed me. A crowd was gathering, and I decided to make this as big as possible and fight as hard as I could. So I fell straight forward as he tried to pick me up, and I did not get off the ground. They had to bring two officers over to carry each of us.

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We were locked up for about 2½ hours before we were bailed out. I thought this should become an international news story. And it did. It got coverage all through Canada and the US and even got mentioned on Conan O’Brien’s show that night.

I thought my mom would be upset that I had risked so much, maybe tarnished my record, but she ended up bragging that her daughter was willing to go so far for something she believed in.

For about a year after, if you Googled my name, the first picture that would come up would be the back of my head and my body in a seal suit with my hands cuffed behind me. The experience made me realize there are some boundaries that need pushing. To get everyone talking about these issues, sometimes we have to do things outside our comfort zone, something more than a letter-writing campaign or eating a vegetarian burrito.

Katie Arth is DC-area organizer for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

This article appears in the November 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.