Warning: Graphic images below.
On October 18, 2014, two employees of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals drove their van to the small community of Parksley, Virginia. Parksley is an out of the way rural town of less than 1,000 people. The destination of the PETA van was a trailer park located there, made up largely of poor, Spanish speaking immigrants. The park is described by a local resident as “difficult to find unless you know where you are going.” The PETA employees knew exactly where they were going because they had been there before. Over several weeks, PETA representatives had been visiting the trailer park and befriending the residents. They got to know who lived where and who had dogs and cats. They sat with the families on their porches, talking to them, offering biscuits to the dogs, promoting vaccinations, sterilization, and other PETA services. One of the families they spent time with had a three year old Chihuahua named Maya, a happy, healthy, and beloved dog. And on October 18, her home was one of the houses PETA set out to visit. This time, however, they were not there to talk to the family or any of the other residents or to offer any kind of assistance. In fact, they knew the family was not home. The PETA employees backed their van up to the porch and threw biscuits to Maya, who was sitting on her porch, hoping to coax her off her property and give PETA the ability to claim she was a stray dog “at large” whom they could therefore legally impound. In Virginia, PETA is licensed as an “animal shelter.” But Maya refused to stay off the property and after grabbing the biscuit, ran back to the safety of her porch. One of the employees went onto the property and stole Maya. But larceny wasn’t the only law the PETA employees would break. Virginia law requires dogs to be held for five days before they can be killed by shelters. It also requires private shelters like PETA to notify the municipal animal control shelter of any “stray” dogs they take in. PETA would do neither. Within hours, Maya was dead. PETA had killed her with a lethal dose of poison.
Maya’s family ultimately sued PETA. Last month, after arguing and losing pre-trial motions that Maya was worthless and facing the specter of PETA administrators being forced to turn over records and testify under oath about their inner workings — particularly, their campaign of animal extermination — PETA settled the case by paying Maya’s family $49,000.
Tragically, Maya was not the only animal they killed that year. In 2014, PETA killed 2,324 of the 2,626 animals it acquired, including Maya. It had a 1% adoption rate. In 2015, it killed another 1,494. Last year, 1,442 were put to death. The majority of the remainder were taken to local pounds where they were killed.
The Movement’s Open “Secret”
As shocking as these figures are, PETA’s serial killing is no secret. And this Friday, October 20, many will speak out against it. Animal rescuers will descend on the U.C. Berkeley campus, bringing their dogs, to protest PETA President, Ingrid Newkirk. The protest is being sponsored by NorCal Bully Breed Rescue which calls PETA, “one of the biggest threats to the lives of pit bulls.”
Newkirk is the architect of PETA’s killing and one of the most outspoken supporters of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) — laws which criminalize living with certain dogs simply because of the way they look — a public advocate for the killing of all pit bulls, and — in addition to other dogs — a killer of pit bulls herself. She will be in the Bay Area to give the keynote address at an upcoming conference sponsored by Berkeley-based group Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), which claims that all animals have a right to be safe and happy and free. And yet, these rights apparently do not extend to Maya or the thousands of other animals PETA kills every year.
DxE has remained defiant in their support for Newkirk despite the pleas of over 11,500 animal lovers who have signed a petition demanding that DxE rescind its invitation to Newkirk in light of PETA’s killing of animals and its support for and promotion of BSL.
In fact, DxE’s leader has publicly stated that Newkirk is “brilliant,” and “just the sort of the leader our movement needs,” despite being provided with evidence demonstrating that PETA is not only responsible for the deaths of more than 13,744 animals over the last 13 years, but that it encourages pounds across the country to kill even more.
Former PETA Field Worker: Killing Was the Goal
This evidence includes impound records acquired through Public Records Act requests, reports by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services after its inspectors visited PETA facilities, affidavits, witness testimony, and court rulings in criminal and civil cases, accounts of other PETA employees, as well as statements made by PETA founder, Ingrid Newkirk, herself.
And what this evidence reveals is that PETA employees both take in and seek out, often through deception, theft and outright lies, thousands of animals every year, the vast majority of whom they immediately put to death with a fatal dose of poison. While PETA claims the animals it takes in and kills are “unadoptable,” the facts do not support this claim.
Employees have described — and records reveal — 8 week old, 10 week old, and 12 week old healthy kittens and puppies routinely and immediately put to death with no effort to find them homes. PETA has been caught stealing healthy animals and putting them to death. Rescue groups, individuals, and veterinarians have come forward stating that the animals they gave PETA were healthy and PETA insiders have admitted as much, one former intern reporting that he quit in disgust after witnessing healthy puppies and kittens in the kill room.
Indeed, a former PETA fieldworker says that killing is not an ancillary part of PETA’s program; it goes to the core of the mission. “The objective of the program,” she says, “was to get as many animals as possible and the vast majority of those animals were killed.” Nothing came between that objective and the staff, including lying by telling people the animals would be adopted knowing full well they would be killed: “I was told to pretty much say anything I needed to say to gain custody of an animal… I was told to lie by my direct supervisors directly and then by Ingrid [Newkirk]…”
PETA Targets Not Just Animals, but Communities of Color
Nor is seeking out and poisoning thousands of animals a year the only harm to animals of which PETA is guilty. PETA has also worked to encourage others to kill animals, too, especially community cats and pit bull dogs. PETA belongs to an umbrella group working “to have pit bulls banned across the United States — a move which seems to lead, inexorably, to the dogs being killed.” “We’re not talking about dogs who have done anything wrong,” writes Arin Greenwood in The Huffington Post. “This concerns all pit bulls. The therapy dogs, the police dogs, the war heroes, those who’ve saved lives, … and those who are still in shelters, waiting to be given a chance.” PETA’s attitude towards these unfairly maligned and much abused animals can be summed in an op-ed written by Ingrid Newkirk which reads:
Most people have no idea that at many animal shelters across the country, any pit bull that comes through the front door doesn’t go out the back door alive. From San Jose to Schenectady, many shelters have enacted policies requiring the automatic destruction of the huge and ever-growing number of ‘pits’ they encounter. This news shocks and outrages the compassionate dog-lover. Here’s another shocker: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the very organization that is trying to get you to denounce the killing of chickens for the table, foxes for fur or frogs for dissection, supports the shelters’ pit-bull policy… People who genuinely care about dogs won’t be affected by a ban on pits.
PETA also kills pit bulls themselves. As one employee noted:
I did witness [PETA] bring back a pit bull to the Norfolk location. This pit bull was wagging its tail, jumping (an obvious friendly dog; not feral) while receiving praise, treats and getting pet by the [two PETA] employees. It was the end of my shift, so I was cleaning and restocking, which required me to go into their shed for supplies. I saw the [two PETA] employees take the pitbull into the shed’s euthanasia room, which is inside this shed. It is a small room where they have a table and a huge walk-in freezer with [four] large trash cans. The trash cans contained deceased animals and were usually full. As I continued to do my job, I heard the [PETA] employees talking to the dog and trying to calm it down as it whined. Later … they opened the door and I saw the pit bull deceased on the table.
According to the Washington Post, pit bull bans are more about disparaging racial attitudes than they are about public safety, serving as “proxies by which uneasy majorities can register their suspicions about the race, class and ethnicity of the people who own those dogs.” The roots of Miami-Dade’s pit bull ban, which PETA supports, was growing anxiety and social tension about Cuban immigration. Denver’s ban, which PETA also supports, was enacted after the energy industry bust resulted in “migration [that] dramatically changed the population of the city”: whites moved out and Latinos moved in. When Aurora, CO, enacted a ban, one of the commissioners stated that she did not want “those sorts of people” moving into her community. When then-Mayor Ed Koch sought similar measures in New York City, he did not do so because of evidence that the dogs were dangerous but because “of who was thought to own them.” In Sterling Heights, MI — a sundown town that once excluded African Americans — a supporter of the pit bull ban called it necessary because, “We have inner-city people who bought homes here.” In Ellenville, NY, officials did not even bother using coded language. They wanted BSL to address the growing number “of Mexicans moving into the community.” In short, says one target of the ban, “it seems that ‘pit bull’ has become a synonym for ‘black.’” Not surprisingly, support for BSL remains strongest with older, white, and more conservative voters and in predominantly white suburbs.
Former PETA employees note that PETA’s “Community Animal Project” often focuses on poor, immigrant, Spanish-speaking, and possibly undocumented populations, which is precisely the sort of neighborhood from which Maya was stolen. When Maya’s family sued, PETA unsuccessfully tried to defend itself by seeking information as to the family’s immigration status under the implied argument that either people in this country illegally do not deserve dogs or, at the least, stealing and killing their dogs should not be actionable in court. In fact, many of the animals PETA kills are from neighborhoods deemed undesirable by the men and women who — indifferent to the pain they cause families — PETA hires to go into poor neighborhoods of color to round up and kill their animals.
PETA Routinely Defends Neglectful and Abusive Pounds
These actions are not the only way PETA ensures that dogs end up dead. Time and again, PETA has come to the defense of cruel and neglectful pounds. Recently, a dog died after three days of suffering in his kennel with no medical or supportive care at Sumter County Animal Services (SCAS) in Florida. In response to criticism, county officials maintain that their job is not to save lives, but to provide “euthanasia services” and “culling” of animals. Despite this neglect, PETA accepted the county’s “assurance that animals in the county’s care and custody are provided timely medical care when needed” and went on to thank pound staff even though they do no adoptions, have no veterinarian on site, do not allow volunteers, and do not allow the public to photograph or videotape in the facility (in violation of the First Amendment and Federal law). PETA — telling county officials that No Kill is impossible even though numerous such communities now exist throughout the United States — also thanked pound staff for “standing firmly” against citizens who are working to ensure that neglect is eliminated, lives are saved, adoptions occur, volunteers are allowed, and constitutional rights are protected.
And cats fare little better. With public statements against cats reminiscent of the numerous dark and cruel moments in history when cats have been unfairly maligned and targeted for destruction, PETA routinely demonizes community cats in order to get counties to round up and kill them, too. In Seaside Heights, NJ, they asked the Mayor to evict cats living on the beach, arguing that they “would be better off with a lethal injection.” In a bid to encourage continued killing, they also told Camden County officials that cats smell, they are a nuisance, make too much noise, are a public health and rabies threat, transmit disease and parasites, including “roundworms, hookworms, and even plague,” and “terrorize and kill” 15 billion other animals a year, urging them to round up and kill cats, too.
DxE’s Vocal and Very Public Act of Acquiescence to Animal Killers
And turning a blind eye again and again to all of this — a blind eye to the killing of animals by the tens of thousands, to the embrace of discriminatory policies against animals — is DxE; the very group that has been taking to the streets to condemn the killing of animals out of one side of their mouths; while out of the other, they sing praises for their killers.
Last month, DxE agreed to stop protesting a Berkeley butcher shop if the owners agreed to hang a sign in their store acknowledging that “Animals’ lives are their right,” and that “Killing them is violent and unjust no matter how it’s done.” At about the same time, they announced their event featuring Newkirk, a woman who has stated that she “does not support right to life for animals,” and that killing animals is to give them “a gift.”
Instead of defending the lives of animals, DxE amplifies and legitimizes PETA’s actions. And they are not alone. Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM), which hosts an annual animal rights conference which frequently includes Newkirk as a speaker, inducted her into their Hall of Fame. Once again, political expediency — and in the case of FARM, sponsorship of the conference — take precedence over the mission these groups claim to represent, and the lives of PETA’s victims.
And that is why at the October 20 conference on U.C. Berkeley’s campus — and despite DxE’s claim that featuring Newkirk as keynote speaker will promote the rights of animals — there will only be one group of people authentically speaking for the animals, and seeking to protect their lives and welfare: those standing outside, rather than inside, that event.