Vegetarian Action

For Gleco: Tom Regan's Fight for Animal Rights

By Laura McGuiness

Tom Regan didn't start out a vegan. He didn't start out a vegetarian, either. He was not raised by vegetarian parents and he did not take on this dietary change until he was well into his adult years. In this way, his work and ideology in the animal rights and vegan fields of thought are extremely influential. If this man can live a non-vegan life and experience an epiphany halfway through adulthood, anybody can.

Tom Regan became a lacto-ovo-vegetarian in the summer of 1972 and transitioned to being a complete vegan shortly thereafter. During his time working as a butcher in his college years, Regan never saw the negative impact of his lifestyle. He was married, expecting children, and acting as the co-founder of a state-wide, grassroots organization called North Carolinians Against the War. He was an anti-war advocate and believed that peaceful living was the best kind of living. He had never considered the hypocrisy of being an anti-war advocate as well as a meat-eater until the fateful year when he and his wife lost their first child.

Their first child was not a human baby, but in fact their miniature poodle, Gleco. Regan said that when Gleco died, he and his wife "...were an emotional basket case. I often say that reason can lead the will to water but only emotion can make it drink. That's what happened in our case. We embraced the argument rationally but, emotionally, we saw the animals we ate in the same way that we saw Gleco. Well, when the mind and heart are on the same page, that sealed the deal for us." Tom Regan and his wife decided to abstain from eating meat shortly after this realization.

Regan's main beliefs within the animal rights movement are as follows: all experiencing subjects-of-a-life are given inherent values at birth and thus do not have a responsibility to humans. "Inherent value is different than existing as a resource for others. Machines and tools, for example, have resource value for those who use them. It's all right to use them 'merely as a means' because that's what their value comes to. But subjects-of-a-life, like the people reading these words, should never be treated 'merely as a means.' They should always be treated as ends in themselves, which is what inherent value means."

While some people advocate veganism for the environmental or nutritional benefits, Regan believes that veganism is simply a form of ethics. If you want to carry out a morally just life, one devoid of unethical choices, you should refrain from eating other living beings.

Tom Regan has written numerous books on the topic of animal rights, including: Empty Cages, Defending Animal Rights, and Matters of Life and Death. He has also given hundreds of professional and public lectures throughout the world, promoting animal rights and expressing his views. He is a professor emeritus of philosophy at North Carolina State University, where he taught primarily animal-rights-related courses from 1967-2001. It is there that the Tom Regan Animal Rights Archive is being established, housing not only Regan's personal papers and books that document his important role in the history of the animal rights movement, but also information regarding other organizations and their functionality within the movement. This archive is the first of its kind, marking the first global attempt to establish a collection of materials related to the animal rights campaign. Through this national archive, Tom Regan's many influential beliefs and theories will continue to thrive.

Laura McGuiness wrote this article while interning for The Vegetarian Resource Group.