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SALT LAKE CITY -- A new PETA-sponsored billboard is asking Utah students, "If you wouldn't eat your dog, why eat a turkey?"
The billboard will be run near Salt Lake City public schools and will also feature an image of an animal that has the body of a turkey and the head of a dog.
The campaign is expected to get off the ground in the coming week in six other states, mostly in the Midwest and South. Utah was chosen in part because of availability of billboard space and PETA's ability to get the billboards up before Thanksgiving. The length of time the billboards will run is dependent on the availability of funding, according to PETA spokeswoman Paige Snyder.
"Cruelty to turkeys is a year-round problem, so we will keep this going for as long as there is funding. It is especially present around Thanksgiving, however," she said. She pointed out that of the 250 million turkeys that are killed in the United States every year, 40 million are for Thanksgiving meals.
That compassion gets beat out of children by a bombardment of messages that say it's morally acceptable to eat animals.
Snyder said the group chose to aim its latest message at children because they "naturally have compassion for animals."
"That compassion gets beat out of children by a bombardment of messages that say it's morally acceptable to eat animals," she said. "Fast-food chains and other organizations target children and say eating meat is a moral activity -- it's all they are exposed to. We want to offset these negative influences."
PETA hopes the billboards will encourage dialogue between parents and children during the holiday season.
"It's important to start a tradition of respecting the life of animals," Snyder said. "A lot of times people are used to parents teaching children everything. Once in a while, kids can teach parents too."
She said the problem is that children do not often realize they are eating sentient beings. If children knew the truth about how animals are treated in slaughterhouses, they would change their opinions on eating turkey for Thanksgiving.
"If kids knew what these animals go through, I think they would realize that they're really the same as their dog or cat," she said. "They would care that it happens at all, rather than what type of animal it happens to."
Snyder expects a mostly positive response from the public.
"People are excited about the idea," she said. "People love to try new things. You could go one aisle over in the grocery store and get Tofurkey instead of ending up with a dead bird on your plate."
The campaign is drawing mixed reactions from Utahns.
Vern Ingalsbee said American culture is the only reason children might become upset by how they interpret the billboards. He said children will not have a problem with the campaign unless they are told they should have a problem.
I don't think it would negatively impact my children if they did see it. I wouldn't draw their attention to it, though.
"Kids go to their grandparents' for turkey on Thanksgiving, but it could just as easily be dog," he said. "The difference is we've taught kids turkey is OK, but dogs aren't."
Marianne Tierney agreed that culture impacts Americans' views of what animals are acceptable to eat.
Tierney did not think the billboards would negatively impact her children, but said she would not draw their attention to the signs.
That is the opposite of what PETA hopes will happen when the new billboards are rolled out before Thanksgiving, according to Snyder.
"We want to start a dialogue," she said. "Once people learn how kind, gentle and intelligent turkeys are, they will consider them friends, not food, and think twice about eating all animals."
"If you did what people do on Thanksgiving to a dog or a cat, there would be animal cruelty charges."