How Bad Can PETA Get? Very. [Updated]S

In a battle between PETA and the fast food industry, it's hard to root for either side. This particular skirmish, though, is worth learning about. A restaurant advocacy group has released documents showing that PETA kills the vast majority of animals in its care — more than previously thought. And for once, the restaurants might be right.

According to documents compiled by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and originally released last week, investigators visited a Norfolk, VA PETA shelter in July 2010, only to find that it wasn't really a "shelter" at all. A few animals were housed there, but the area where they were kept wasn't available to the public, and they weren't available for adoption. In fact, the shelter didn't really do adoptions. What it did was euthanasia: in 2010, 94% of the animals it took in were euthanized, 90% within just 24 hours of admission. The (obviously partisan) organization PETA Kills Animals also obtained statewide stats for shelter kills in Virginia — over the past 15 years, PETA's kill percentage has been slowly climbing, from 72.6% in 1998 to 95.9% statewide in 2011. The state average for kills is closer to 50%.

Bad, right? Except the source for these documents is the Center for Consumer Freedom, which is ... not exactly objective. Their website states,

The Center for Consumer Freedom is supported by restaurants, food companies and thousands of individual consumers. From farm to fork, from urban to rural, our friends and supporters include businesses, their employees, and their customers.

Their FAQ is also full of conservative buzzwords. Observe:

Unfortunately, Americans have been force-fed a diet of bloated statistics hyping the problem of obesity. Those statistics have been used by Big Brother government bureaucrats and greedy trial lawyers to justify a host of noxious "solutions," like extra taxes on certain foods and lawsuits against anyone who grows, makes, or serves anything tasty.

PETA spokesperson Jane Dollinger told me,

CCF is a front group for Philip Morris, Outback Steakhouse, KFC, cattle ranchers, and other animal exploiters who kill millions of animals every year — and do so not out of compassion, but out of greed.

CCF puts out this release every year when we submit our numbers to the state. We have a small division that does hands-on work with animals, and most of the animals we take in are society's rejects; aggressive, on death's door, or somehow unadoptable. [...] CCF's goal is to damage PETA by misrepresenting the situation and the number of unwanted and suffering animals PETA euthanizes because of injury, illness, age, aggression, and other problems, because their guardians requested it, or because no good homes exist for them.

Philip Morris does appear to have been one of CCF's original benefactors. The organization clearly has an axe to grind, and a pretty fucking unappealing one at that. Unfortunately, PETA doesn't come out of this looking completely awesome either.

When I talked to Justin Wilson of CCF, he said his group's restaurant affiliations had no bearing on the validity of its charges against PETA. He pointed out (correctly) that "these are government documents." He also affirmed that his group had been releasing PETA's kill statistics since at least 2005, but said he found it "hilarious" that PETA was using this information to imply that "this is not a news story." Of their criticisms of his group, he said "it's telling that that is their first defense against this" — implying that PETA's only recourse was to engage in ad hominem attacks. And he expressed surprise that PETA had been so unwilling to limit euthanasia. He opined that they have "a messiah complex" and said, "they would rather have these dogs be put down than have them adopted out."

PETA has never disguised its use of euthanasia for animals it considers unadoptable. A section of its website devoted to the practice reads, "Because of the high number of unwanted companion animals and the lack of good homes, sometimes the most humane thing that a shelter worker can do is give an animal a peaceful release from a world in which dogs and cats are often considered 'surplus.'" The organization also takes a dim view of "no-kill" shelters, arguing that these facilities either warehouse animals in inhumane conditions or simply turn them away:

"No-kill" shelters and "no-kill" rescue groups often find themselves filled to capacity, which means that they must turn animals away. These animals will still face untimely deaths — just not at these facilities. In the best-case scenario, they will be taken to another facility that does euthanize animals. Some will be dumped by the roadside to die a far more gruesome and horrible death than an injection of sodium pentobarbital would provide. Although it is true that "no-kill" shelters do not kill animals, this doesn't mean that animals are saved. There simply aren't enough good homes — or even enough cages — for them all.

Actually, "dim view" is putting it mildly. PETA actually seeks to demonize no-kill shelters. One of its recent exposes, conveniently placed front-and-center on its website in the wake of the document release, (warning: graphic images of injured animals) targets a "no-kill hell" called Caboodle Cat Ranch in which animals suffered from horrific injuries and neglect. Caboodle indeed seems to have been terribly mismanaged, resulting in the illness or death of many cats — after PETA's investigation, a number of animal-care organizations, including the no-kill facility Cat Depot, helped evacuate the remaining cats. Cat Depot has won several statewide awards for its rescue and care efforts — it appears to be far from a "no-kill hell." And many "no-kill" advocates challenge the notion that they have to turn lots of animals away — Bonney Brown of the Nevada Humane Society told the Daily Beast in 2008 that her organization had been able to save over 90% of the animals they took in, mostly by expanding their volunteer force and media outreach efforts.

Even no-kill advocates would probably agree that severely ill or injured animals sometimes need to be euthanized. But beyond blanket assurances — and a typically graphic photo-dump of horrifically disfigured animals — PETA hasn't been able to provide me with any assurances that the animals it puts down are actually at death's door. They seem to engage in sensationalism — anything but our practices leads to cats with bleeding eyeballs! — rather than face the real issue, a serious difference of opinion over when animals should be killed. Wilson may be exaggerating slightly, but it's true that PETA is skeptical even of loving pet adopters. They write that the "selfish desire to possess animals and receive love from them causes immeasurable suffering." And:

Even in "good" homes, cats must relieve themselves in dirty litterboxes and often have the tips of their toes amputated through declawing. Dogs often have to drink water that has been sitting around for days, are hurried along on their walks, if they even get walked, and are yelled at to get off the furniture or be quiet.

PETA appears to think euthanasia is more humane than certain kinds of shelters, and possibly even than homes. It's worth debating at what point it makes sense to end an animal's life, but the organization doesn't seem to be interested in debate. Rather, they want to make everyone who doesn't agree with them look like an asshole who wants animals to suffer. And while they're engaged in this character assassination, the animals lose.

Update: PETA has now provided us with a letter from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services showing that in 2011, after further investigation, the Department determined that the Norfolk facility did in fact qualify as a shelter. You can read the letter below:

vdacs_peta

Update 2: PETA spokesperson Amanda Schinke also sent us this statement:

The idea of "no-kill" shelters appeals to all of us who love animals, but a blanket rejection of euthanasia has very real consequences. On one end of the spectrum are hoarders disguised as "rescue sanctuaries," such as Caboodle Ranch, where a PETA undercover investigation resulted in the seizure of hundreds of sick and injured cats and the property owner's arrest on a felony charge. But even the most carefully run "no-kill" shelters fill up and must turn animals away, and many of those rejected animals will instead end up at underfunded, overrun open-admission shelters that won't turn any animal away and are forced to do society's dirty work by euthanizing animals for whom there simply aren't enough homes. To use PETA's example, Virginia officials speaking of PETA's euthanasia rate acknowledged to USA Today that "PETA will take basically anything that comes through the door, and other shelters won't do that." PETA has posted numerous blogs over the years that show some of the animals PETA takes in: the broken, the aggressive, the unsocialized, the elderly, the sick, and the otherwise unadoptable.

As wonderful as it would be to find loving homes for each of the 8 million animals who flood U.S. animal shelters annually, there would be 8 million more the next year, and the year after that. The only answer is prevention. In addition to urging people always to adopt homeless dogs and cats from animal shelters instead of supporting the irresponsible guardians who let their animals breed and the puppy mill operators who contribute to the animal overpopulation crisis, PETA focuses on promoting and performing lifesaving spay-and-neuter surgeries. Our three mobile spay-and-neuter clinics, which serve low-income residents in Virginia and North Carolina, have sterilized nearly 80,000 animals since 2001, including 10,564 in 2011 alone. We also provide flea and tick treatments, vaccinations, deworming, counseling, and other services that allow families to keep their animals rather than abandoning them at already overburdened animal shelters.

Want to help put a permanent stop to euthanasia? Don't support breeders, always adopt from your local animal shelter, always spay and neuter your animal companions, and send a letter to your state's governor asking him or her to make spaying and neutering mandatory statewide.

New Documents: PETA Killed a Near Record-Breaking 95 Percent of Adoptable Dogs and Cats in its Care During 2011 [Center for Consumer Freedom]

Image by Jim Cooke, original photo via itsmejust/Shutterstock