Los Angeles pet lovers.
By Lori Golden
I first met Rikki at the WorldFest LA event last September, and then bumped into him a few times at the wonderful Chatsworth vegetarian restaurant, Vegetable Delight. So it was only natural that we met there for this interview and share a sumptuous Chinese vegan dinner.
Over a bowl of Won Ton soup I learned that Rikki hails from a small town near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he had a bunch of hamsters, a cat named Felicia and a mutt named Tony. "I think what helped me bond with animals was the bond I had with Tony," Rikki explains. "We'd go walking in the woods and just do everything together. They say that every boy (and girl) should have a dog. I believe in that."
Munching on a yummy appetizer of fried shrimp, Rikki spoke about compassion, which he says "can solve a lot of our problems. When you grow up caring for an animal, it teaches you responsibility and compassion because something is depending on you. I think if someone is really great at taking care of a dog, he'll be better equipped to want to take care of life."
"My mother and grandmother are very compassionate people," he continues. "If it seemed like I was being insensitive to something, they'd stop and make me think about it. And when I did think about it, I would reflect and look inside myself and go 'gee, that does feel kind of ugly.' I'm glad I had that influence. They were good at it. Everybody stresses education, but we're not taught compassion. We're taught to be cliquish, which leads to gangs, and the "in crowd," and eventually to events like Columbine. There are a lot of people who are really, really intelligent, but for some reason they're just horribly moronic emotionally."
Where Rikki grew up they used to get days off from school to go hunting… a day for fox season and a day for pheasant season. "I used to hunt with my dad. You're out there carrying a gun around for 8 hours and getting up at 4:00 in the morning, so you feel like shooting something, especially at the end of the day. One day I finally decided I wanted to get something. I saw a bird in a tree and said, 'it's just a damn bird. Who cares.' So I shot it and watched it fall out of the tree. I walked up to see what I had done, but it was still alive. I reached down and moved it with the nuzzle of my gun. It was squawking in pain and I had to kill it to put it out of its misery. I watched it take its last breath and realized I had killed it for no reason. From that point on I said 'I'm never going to kill anything intentionally, ever again, as long as I live.' That day I made a commitment to do everything I could to help the innocent lives of animals."
As we feasted on our entrees of Lemon Chicken, Veggie Duck and steamed rice, I thought about the man sitting opposite me compared to his onstage Poison 'glam' persona from the mid-80's, with his long puffy hair and tons of make-up. In an interview on VH1's Behind The Music, Rikki admitted that he "once ran out of eyeliner and used magic marker", adding "that's commitment!" And that's how Rikki is, throwing himself into everything he does that's important to him with total commitment.
Another pivotal moment for Rikki occurred when he was in junior high school and decided he wanted a pet rat. "At that time people didn't get pet rats. The only time you'd get a rat was to feed it to a snake. Pet stores just didn't have them. The salesperson suggested I go to the lab at Hershey Med Center. But the only way they could sell one was with a note from a teacher saying what experiment it was going to be used for. When I explained I didn't want to do an experiment, that I just wanted it as a pet, they said they couldn't help me. I couldn't believe it. I could experiment on a rat but I couldn't take care of it."
Not long after that Rikki saw something in the mail that came from the National Anti-Vivisection Society in Jenkintown, PA. "There it was! Hershey Med Center with pictures of rats being experimented on. It was almost like it came to me for a reason."
He used that as a springboard for a pro/con topic for a school science project. He picked anti-vivisection because he felt it was loaded with information. "I had to learn both sides of the argument, and I wasn't even sure myself how I felt about it. Although I was taken aback by the photos I saw, I knew I was only getting one side of the story. I thought, well, that's a really horrible thing to do to a rat, but what if it saves me, or somebody I love… this experimentation. Maybe this is just another lesson I need to learn in life."
"What was really interesting was how the science teacher reacted to me picking the "con" side. It was as if I struck a nerve, somehow. I became more anti-vivisection from that point on and never wavered from that feeling. I've always come from a scientific standpoint."
While Rikki was fervently opposed to vivisection, that was pretty much where he drew the line. "Every Sunday it was barbecue steak in the summer. Sometimes I'd have three steaks. I was a growing boy. I was never connecting animal rights and being vegetarian together. I don't know why, I just did not make the connection. In my mind I separated it. It leads to that old saying, "people are passionate to the point of being inconvenienced."
It wasn't until after he got a crash course on the full circle of life during an 8-hour conversation with a vegetarian that he began to connect animals and food. "She made me think to the point where I literally didn't leave the house for two days. It affected me that much. Once I completely came full circle with everything I got extremely depressed. And I said 'you know what, I'm just going to have to be someone with a voice, and rise up and speak out for the animals from this day on.' Little by little I grew. I'm still learning things. There are no easy answers to a lot of this."
The term "Animal Rights" means different things to different people. To Rikki it means that "you acknowledge that an animal has an unalienable right not to be unnecessarily harmed."
Rikki doesn't just talk about Animal Rights. He's an activist who does a lot of things with Chris De Rose and Last Chance For Animals. "I like to be involved with undercover stuff, which is hard for me, being a celebrity, so I have to completely dress differently."
One of the most memorable cases he worked on was trying to catch a man who was stealing dogs out of people's cars at a supermarket. "Something like 10 a week were being stolen … small dogs. So I had to use my small dog as bait, and that meant that I was going to be REALLY on it, because no one was going to get away with taking her. I was really scared to tell you the truth. We never got him, but guess what? It stopped! The second we started there was the day it stopped."
"The other stuff I'm involved with is going to places where these "B class" dealers are. Basically these are the people responsible for pet theft rings, who answer free ads or pose as people interested in adopting animals, but who really use animals for profit. The "bunchers." You have to be careful when investigating them because they will hurt you. They don't give a shit who you are!"
When I asked Rikki how he would describe himself, he said he's "a compassionate redneck from Pennsylvania. I'm a dichotomy on all levels. Here I was a hairdresser for five years; I'm compassionate with animals; but at the same time there's nothing I like to do more than really a lot of "guy stuff." I like to off road, I still like to fire guns, I just don't shoot them at animals, and I'm a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu."
"A lot of people look at our band and our image and think that we're cocky or on another planet with all this stuff. But I think all of us, myself definitely included, I think I'm a pretty down to earth person. People might think some of my ideas with the animal stuff is a little bit wacky, but I think if you really look at what I'm saying, it's all common sense really. That's the biggest misconception people have, that because of the kind of band we are we must be totally wacked out guys… that we have nothing intelligent to say. It's very annoying…that our validity doesn't exist because of our image. We fought that for a long time, but I wouldn't do it any other way. I can't separate myself from Poison. At one point I thought I could. At one point I thought well, I'm me and I can't be responsible for everything that the band does or represents. But I will always be Rikki Rockett from Poison or formally of Poison. It will always be in tandem somewhere along the way because I was part of inventing Poison from the beginning. It serves me right. I made my bed and now I lay in it."
At home Rikki has another full time job caring for 6 dogs, including Voodoo in our cover photo, 6 cats, and 4 of the "most high strung rats in the world" nicknamed the Ballistic Boys. But he even seems to be at odds with the idea of having pets. "The fact is, I have all these dogs, and if I could do it all over again I don't even know if dogs ever should have been domesticated. But the fact of the matter is they are domesticated. They're here and we have to deal with them and that's that. The utopia for that is never going to happen. All we can do is try to get it better by not breeding a bunch of them and having all these homeless dogs being put to sleep approximately every 5 seconds."
As we enter the new year, Rikki's greatest goal is to see some of the more notorious research labs, like Huntington Life Sciences Labs and Coulston shut down. "When I got involved with Last Chance for Animals their focus at the time was the B Class dealers, which is the Achilles heal of the vivisection movement. If you have dogs that have been stolen, you don't know how old they are or have any history on them, yet you're going to use them for 'scientific research.' It really makes you question the vivisection community morally, ethically and scientifically. I want to see more of the B dealers busted, because it makes it very expensive when they have to go through A Class Dealers, who have the ones raised strictly for vivisection."
He also wishes animals could not be sold unless they are spayed or neutered first. We just don't need more dogs and cats. We can't keep up with them. They're put to sleep every day of the damn week and the only sin they ever committed was that they were born."
As for advice to our readers, Rikki says "the best thing that you can do for animals, honestly, is not eat them. I think there's a dichotomy with the rescue person who saved five dogs this week but ate two cows. Is one supposed to forgive me for the other, or am I really doing everything that I can do? We can only do so much. But if you can make those little decisions every day… if you can make those particular choices not to use stuff that exploits animals or eat them… That's a big thing to ask people to do. Even if every time you substitute pasta for steak, you're doing something. I'm not saying if you're not a vegetarian you shouldn't rescue animals, I'm saying you have to look at where the compassion comes from. Think about the things you do. There are other ways to live."
(Poison is working on a new record that will be out around April, with plans for a summer tour in the U.S. and Canada. Rikki can be heard occasionally as Dr. Rockett, the Dear Abby of Hard Rock, on KNAC radio. Information about all these and more can be accessed fromwww.rikkirockett.com)
First published in August of 1999, The Pet Press has become THE only local resource for
pet lovers in the Los Angeles area. The mission of The Pet Press is three-fold:
Each issue of The Pet Press contains the following sections: