> AR Interviews
Never Say Die -- If Voices Were Horses
"If I were to die," says thirty-something Kit Paraventi, sitting comfortably in an armchair with several dogs in her lap, "I hope I'm fairly well along on my 'to do' list."
She's had a good start.
A stand-up comic, free-lance writer, radio show host, actress and voiceover artist by trade, Kit knows well how to use her innate skills to make a successful living
-- and how not to successfully use them. Referring to her "powerful instruments of persuasion"
-- her voice, her face, talent, style -- Kit has turned down McDonald's bookings (not auditions, but bookings), the Pork Council's "other white meat" commercials, and promos for Sea World.
"Angels angels coming," she wrote at age five, "this way or going but come to stay." She's been poetic all her life. She penned the book, Concrete Shoelaces: A Dysfunctional's Garden of Verse, and she's currently writing yet another play: White Tails. She demonstrates herself in a self-made audio cassette she's dubbed, If Voices Were Horses.
Hers is a world most of us fantasize about. Limousines and glamorous galas. She's been the voice for Dial Soap, Revlon, Jovan, Ford, Chrysler, and Cap'n Crunch, to name only a few. She's starred in numerous television programs, such as It's a Living, Hunter, America's Funniest People and NBC's The Cheech Show. Of late, she is a staff writer for the PBS series Home Green Home. And she teaches her craft.
At the Los Angeles Valley College, she hosts classes for celebrities and news anchors and the like on voiceovers. She's a master of dialects: Bronx, Bostonian, Cockney, Arabic, East Indian and a host of others. She mimics an old woman for me and laughs at herself. She's that funny.
And she's that funny despite the seriousness of her work -- and her life.A parrot walks into the room, a brilliant neon-greenish military macaw with a large bill, topped with bright red feathers. "B'vah," she calls him. And he ignores her to investigate me. He skillfully climbs onto a sofa cushion nearby to study me more closely. "Watch him," Kit warns. "He loves to remove buttons and destroy shoelaces."
She is more comfortable with animals. And it shows. "Yoda," a small, blonde, serene chihuahua, nestles into her arm against her side while "Schweitzer" steals her other. And she seems comfortable in Los Angeles where she shares a house with her sister, Maureen. She seems comfortable despite her ordeals. You see, a house isn't the only thing she shares with Maureen.
After a nearly life-long and life-threatening bout with diabetes, Kit underwent a kidney transplant: a gift given to her by her sister. Kit is still managing her illness, a disease which threatens to require a pancreas transplant in the not-too-distant future.
"I was blind for two years," she remembers for me, recalling as well the lessons it taught her. "When I regained my sight, I thanked God. But then I wondered why I hadn't thanked God for the things I had in life prior to my blindness." She wakes every day now, she says, and counts a dozen things to be grateful for before even beginning her day. "Like walking," she adds. "We must always approach life with gratitude. It's the antidote for depression."
Maybe that's why comedy comes so easily for her. Though born-and-raised in Detroit, MI, Kit was a popular Chicago morning radio personality; her dry humor is still syndicated on radio shows throughout the country. And it was, perhaps, her humor that opened a new world for her.
A vegetarian from the age of five, Kit felt very much the way a lot of people feel: it's wrong to wear animals for fur coats or to eat them, even, but when it comes to human life-saving animal research, one must draw the line.
During a Christmas radio broadcast, a caller to her program shared that she would love a fur coat for the holiday. "I can't think of anything more beautiful than to be draped in a carcass," Kit loosely remembers responding. The wisecrack triggered a host of mail, including a letter from a furrier who demanded an apology for insulting his profession. And apologize she did
-- but not for her remark. She apologized for not being honest with her audience about how she felt about fur. "The fur industry can burn in hell," she told them. And she meant it. She still means it.
But she couldn't find it in herself to speak out against vivisection. "I was confronted," she explains, "with heartwrenching solicitations from the March of Dimes and the Kidney Foundation, imploring me to open my heart
-- and my wallet -- for the crippled child, the paraplegic teenager, the downs syndrome baby."
Then she moved to Los Angeles and met actor Chris DeRose, also the Founder and Director of Last Chance for Animals, an active anti-vivisection organization. "I ended up spending hours at the UCLA biomedical library," she says, "and I pored over toxicology reports, comparative anatomy texts, and such." She attacked vivisection like an objective journalist and concluded, in the end, that "nothing good comes of something inherently evil."
She pauses in that moment to reflect on her discovery, the one that made her a bona fide animal rights activist. "I had changed, what had been for me, a lifelong habit of closing out the screams of the laboratory."
At one time, Kit owned and operated Rocking Renaissance Ranch, a refuge in southern California for rescued horses and other animals
-- including turkeys and sheep. She lost all the 36 animals to good homes after her illness made it impossible for her to care for them. (Animals aren't Kit's only children. She is also the sponsor of a young girl in Kenya. "Dora" is just one of her many rescues.)
Sitting now with two dogs, and a third -- "Trooper," an energetic cross between a pit bull and a dingo (he'd been hit by a car and required extensive surgery and recovery)
-- Kit warns B'vah who's gone into another room to behave himself. She laughs when he ignores her. And then he laughs when she does. She's just that funny.I tease her about 12 years of Catholic school. "I'm a pantheist now," she explains. "I believe nothing exists that isn't God."
She has just as strong feelings about the animal rights movement. After attending an anti-vivisection demonstration, she watched as activists battled it out verbally with pro-animal researchers. "I have cancer," one such person screamed at the animal rights protesters. "If it wasn't for animal research, I'd be dead." A demonstrator mumbled, "If she was a vegetarian, she wouldn't have gotten cancer in the first place."
"All in all," Kit explains, "it wasn't a proud moment for the animal rights movement. It's ironic that a movement founded on compassion is bristling with hostility."
Kit has a tool few of us have: she is the crippled child, the paraplegic teenager, the downs syndrome baby. She has spent a lifetime with the "half-guilty comfort that is the cost of hope, the one churned out by the evening news reports, the promotional vehicle for researchers whose 'exciting' work with baboons or rabbits or snakes would eventually cure our world and our families and ourselves of AIDS, or impotency, or obesity."
After realizing how much of her illness related to itself, she understood that the body
-- like the earth -- was one organism.
She is a warrior, in the true Native American sense, for animals, people of color, impoverished young girls, and, even, cancer-stricken victims; a warrior in the steward/protector sense. "And warrior energy," she explains, "though not violent, can be ruthless."
An autographed picture of actor Pierce Brosnan, his girlfriend Keely Shaye Smith, and their newborn son, Dylan Thomas, sits on a sofa table. At their home, Kit recalls, Pierce helped her from the curb. She needed his help; she was having yet another insulin reaction. "I fight my illness and accept it, too," she says. Pierce became emotional; Kit's condition had reminded him of his late wife's terminally ill days. "We have a special bond," she explains, making the profile she wrote for The Animals' Voice Magazine all the more meaningful to me.
Kit has given our magazine heart. Her heart. Over the years, she's contributed her editorial skills, but also her conscience and her soul weaves its way through her writing. I thank her here and now for her beautiful words. And if voices were horses, I suspect Kit Paraventi would be a reverent and uniquely mixed herd of them.
"Angels, angels coming." Yes. And Kit Paraventi is one angel we pray will stay.
A kidney transplant recipient, Kit speaks out against vivisection. Below is an open letter to the media written after she watched television press coverage of disease victims who support animal research.
As a diabetic for more than 20 years, I've experienced many debilitating complications such as nephropathy and retinopathy (which led to two years of blindness). I've undergone a multitude of treatments, including dialysis and a kidney transplant four months ago. Despite this, I absolutely oppose vivisection.
As a long-time chronic disease victim, I am intimately familiar with the degree and extent of psychological manipulation and indoctrination exerted by the multi-million dollar research industry. Preying on desperation and hope, researchers publicly parade disease victims and their families in an attempt to distract attention away from the real issue: the flawed premise that meaningful scientific conclusions can be drawn about one species by studying another.
This position wasn't derived from a simple sentimental decision to avoid inflicting suffering or torment on animals. It was only after many hours of research in the University of California, Los Angeles' Biomedical library that I arrived at the conclusion I now realize is shared by an ever-growing number of scientific and medical authorities. Animal research violates even the simplest parameters of scientific methodology. Despite the clumsy patchwork of extrapolation and genetic manipulation, it is ultimately meaningless, even dangerous. It dismisses or minimizes differences between infinitely complex biological organisms whose every minuscule tissue represents a hopeless morass of variables. Science is a precise, not a metaphoric device, and the fact that vivisection is an entrenched dogma in much of the medical community does not altar its basic infraction of the rules of logic and science. You can't figure out how to get from Burbank to Santa Monica by studying a map of Africa.
The consequences of such flawed thinking are horrific in terms of both animal and human suffering. Thalidomide, Isoproterenol, and an ever-growing list of drugs have tested safe and effective on animals and gone on to destroy human lives. Though transplant recipients, like myself, are consistently taught that animal research was and is vital to medical progress, the first hundred or so heart transplant recipients died soon after surgery
-- despite the fact that the procedure had been "perfected" on dogs.
Public debate on this issue has degenerated into ridiculous and volatile screaming matches about the relative value of rats and children or AIDS victims and primates. I demand that the incisive light of scientific scrutiny be focused on this archaic practice through rational debate between scientific authorities. In this arena, animal research will be revealed as the house of cards it is.
Until this happens, please don't assist the animal research community in its ongoing efforts to delude the public into the belief that cutting up, burning, electrocuting, excoriating, or otherwise torturing living animals has a positive impact on the sad condition of human health. Don't allow the blatant promotional pitches of grant-hungry researchers to saturate the evening news with images of obese mice, baboons infected with "AIDS-like" symptoms, or sexually impotent fruitflies.
Myself, along with other disenchanted disease victims and a long list of scientists and medical practitioners worldwide, urge you to apply logic and critical thinking instead of the unquestioning acceptance animal researchers rely upon to perpetuate this fraudulent abberation.