PETA is not the Animal Liberation Front.
I can't say that I've been a radical animal rights kind of person, but I think a lot of people have a whacked idea of what animal rights is, and that whacked idea mostly comes from animal rights critics, not from animal rights "activists." It's like getting your image of "what liberals believe" from Rush Limbaugh (or your image of "what capitalists believe" from Fidel Castro). Here's something from the Humane Society of the United States:
The human-animal bond is as old as human history. We cherish our animal companions for their unconditional affection and acceptance. We feel a thrill when we glimpse wild creatures in their natural habitat or in our own backyard.
Unfortunately, the human-animal bond has at times been weakened. Humans have exploited some animal species to the point of extinction. Research animals suffer pain and distress in laboratory tests considered necessary for human health or well-being. Animals killed for fur fashions endure unimaginable agony in inhumane traps or on fur "ranches." Animals used by the food industry live on factory farms where they are treated as unfeeling commodities rather than as sentient beings. The use of animal parts for traditional medicines has contributed to the disappearance of some species worldwide.
Now, the HSUS carefully avoids using the phrase "animal rights," largely because of the negative association from PETA. PETA has always been a little loopy, and they've been loopier recently--but they've won a lot of the less loopy battles already. A lot of major companies have stopped needless animal testing. Fur isn't nearly as fashionable. And it's largely thanks to the noise of those loopy folks that people are starting to pay more attention to just how cruel factory farming is. (The obvious truism "but we have to eat" has nothing to do with the conditions animals are often kept in. )
The ALF is a radical monkeywrenching group whose tactics have been pretty controversial within the animal rights movement. Here's a quote from PETA's website:
Q: Don't animal rights activists commit terrorist acts?
A: The animal rights movement is nonviolent. One of the central beliefs shared by most animal rights people is rejection of harm to any animal, human or otherwise. However, any large movement is going to have factions that believe in the use of force.
PETA has defended ALF actions on the grounds that some of them have done good. It's hard to dismiss that claim (videos taken on ALF "raids" have led to criminal charges against companies for clear violations of the Animal Welfare Act), but the damage the ALF has done to the perception of animal rights probably outweighs that good.
The concept of "animal rights" as opposed to "animal welfare" is--again quoting from those radical PETA people--the idea that "animals have interests that cannot be sacrificed or traded away just because it might benefit others. The rights position does not hold that rights are absolute; an animal's rights, just like those of humans, must be limited, and rights can certainly conflict."
I'm not a vegetarian and there are many specific instances in which I'd probably end up disagreeing with a more radical animal rights supporter. In general, though, that statement above comes pretty starkly close to the central questions in In Our Image: Where do you draw the line? There's something perversely ironic about furry fans being dismissive of even considering the issue.
PETA does things that are worthy of making fun of, and when seen from some lights, so does ALF--from some lights, ALF is kind of scary. On the flip side, there are a lot of ludicrous things attributed to both groups, including on the Flayrah comment page, that just have nothing to do with reality.
(N.B.: Please don't go through various animal rights pages looking for ludicrous things to point out to me. I've probably already seen them, and if anyone thinks this mild rant is about defending the logic of anti-fishing campaigns or whatever, they've missed the point.)