Animal Rights
Animal Rights

PETA Talks to American Idol's Pro-Animal Simon Cowell

| by PETA
By Christine Dore, PETA

Every Tuesday night, I grab a seat on my very comfy couch, flip on American Idol, proceed to squeal and shout comments at the screen for the next hour, and then dial in incessantly to vote for my fave (Adam Lambert, anyone?).

On the show, judge Simon Cowell is known for being a little harsh when he gives the contestants a dose of the hard truth, but in reality he is full of compassion, especially when it comes to animals. Not only has he lent his celebrity to important campaigns in the past (like when he recorded a video message to remind people not to leave dogs in hot cars or when he has spoken out about the importance of spaying and neutering (and against fur), but now he's taken the time to sit down and chat with us about everything from his thoughts on Michael Vick to Obama's new White House pup, and much more. Check it out below and let us know what you think!

Do you think it's important to adopt a dog or cat rather than buying one from a pet store?
Well, I mean, if I was buying a dog, I wouldn't buy it from a pet shop, I'd go to a rescue shelter. Or I'd go to a friend who couldn't take care. … It's not where the dog came from, it's the dog. … I get really annoyed when people start telling me about the make and the model of their dog like [for] a car. … A dog is a dog, no matter what background they've got. … Often, the mutts, the strays have got more personality than a highly bred pedigree.

Why do you think some people are obsessed with buying purebred dogs? They are plagued with physical issues, and some breeds are so popular that folks can't tell their own dogs apart from their neighbors' dogs.
Well, I think the fashion accessory thing has become quite the thing here. You've got the rap and pop stars carrying around the highly bred dogs …. They think it'd be embarrassing to be seen carrying a mutt … when actually it would be endearing—people would think they cared more about the dog than their image. The other thing which is a problem, as you know, is they'll make movies about, you know, Chihuahuas, and thousands of people will go out and buy Chihuahuas like in the movie.

Right. And we're concerned that the same thing might happen now with the first family. What do you think about their Portuguese water dog?
I think we've got to be balanced on this. I think—on a positive note, I think it's nice that they have made an issue of buying a dog for the kids. What I think would be great would be if they also took in a shelter dog, just from anywhere, to balance it. I'll even pay for the dog food!

The Westminster and Crufts dog shows are always controversial because
they promote purebred animals when so many mutts are dying in animal shelters. What do you think of these shows? Well, again, I have two thoughts about them, because I think the vast majority of people who go and watch something like Crufts or who are involved are animal lovers, not animal haters. The problem (in the U.K. at least) is that we have elitism in the dog world, which does bother me, for who's to say what makes the perfect dog? The fact that these judges are saying that a bulldog who can't breathe properly is the proper way to breed a dog―that's just insane! Because, in their warped minds, that's what a dog should look like. I've got a show called Britain's Got Talent, where we have crazy dog acts, and I like those dog shows better. The dogs are having a blast, obviously having a great time.

We see a lot of dogs chained outside like bicycles, for life. What is your message to people who do that?
That's disgraceful. The awful thing about what that person doesn't realize is that in the dog's mind, as he's being chained up … that dog has put his trust in the person who's chaining him. That dog would give up his life nine times out of 10 for the person who's chaining him up. … For a dog, under those circumstances, just to be left alone, starving to death, lonely and thirsty, is about as low as a person can go. You've got to have a really warped, disgusting personality to want to do something like that. That really disgusts me.

What makes you angriest when someone is cruel to an animal?
I think the fact that they get an enjoyment out of it. I think the disrespect—a dog's sole purpose in life is to guard you, and it's your responsibility, and the dog will give up his life for you—would literally die for you—is unbelievable! It shows a really … like Michael Vick. He should never, ever be publicly supported again. Ever. If people really knew the gory details of what he was doing …. They think it was just a dogfight, but what do you do after the fights? The way they kill the maimed dogs ….

Right. And it came out last winter that Vick even threw his family pets into the fighting ring.
That's not a human being―that's a sadist.

As you know, your image is posted on our mobile spay-and-neuter clinic, which rides around in low-income, rural areas of Virginia and North Carolina. People cheer when they see you on the van, and they bring their dogs out for their vaccinations. Thank you for that. Can you send some words to people who are having a hard time putting food on the table about why they shouldn't forget their dogs in these tough economic times?
Well, I think that a life is a life, and I totally respect the fact that it's very easy for pampered celebrities like me to lecture, and sometimes I despise people like me because we don't do enough. But I can tell you that if you give an animal kindness, it will come back to you a thousand times over. … You get so much out of it, I cannot tell you. And for us, certainly, I am always willing to do—if I can help you financially, I will do that. If you need a donation anytime, we'll set it up straight away. Never hesitate calling me about that.

Did you know that several of your American Idol graduates have gone on to help animals? Carrie Underwood, Reuben Studdard, and Kellie Pickler are, for example, all vegetarians and are all on PETA's "sexiest vegetarian" list. If you know someone is good with animals, does that make you more inclined to be kind to them after they perform?
Well, funny enough, there's normally something that connects me to them. Certainly with Carrie, the second she walked in, I sensed a real kindness about her, and I think it's part of her appeal. And to me, it just shows that you're a nicer person. So I'm not surprised to hear all of that, to be honest with you. I'll do more to encourage it. We'll put it on the questionnaire!