Newkirk has worked for the animal protection movement since 1972. Under her leadership in the 1970s as the District of Columbia's first female poundmaster, legislation was passed to create the first spay/neuter clinic in Washington, D.C., as well as an adoption program and the public funding of veterinary services, leading her to be among those chosen in 1980 as Washingtonians of the Year.
- Main article: PETA
Newkirk founded PETA in March 1980 with fellow animal rights activist Alex Pacheco.
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