People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is well known for its publicity-seeking tactics. Over the past Super Bowl weekend, PETA generated controversy with a commercial that it claims was rejected by the Fox Network which depicted cartoon animals “taking a knee” during the National Anthem. The social media response was not positive. Some critics saw this as trivializing and misappropriating Colin Kaepernick’s protest activities or trivializing the civil rights movement in general. During this same period, PETA’s founder, Ingrid Newkirk, went on record claiming that calling a pet a “pet” is offensive and disrespectful and tantamount to calling a woman “honey” or “sweetie,” drawing another offensive comparison — this time between dog or cat ownership and sexual discrimination and harassment.
As they typically do, these antics received press. What received no press was PETA’s annual filing with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services reporting on the disposition of dogs, cats and other animals that PETA took into its “shelter” in Norfolk, Virginia. As a private animal shelter in Virginia, PETA must file this report each year by January 31 for the preceding calendar year. As we have reported before, PETA euthanizes dogs and cats at a rate that far exceeds the rate at private shelters in the Commonwealth generally. PETA’s 2019 report shows that this trend has continued.
In 2019, PETA took in 1,066 dogs and 1,355 cats. It euthanized 609 of the dogs and 969 of the cats. In other words, PETA euthanized 57% of the dogs it took in and 72% of the cats. It adopted out 19 dogs and 10 cats, i.e., 1.8% of the dogs taken in and .8% of the cats.
The numbers, statewide among all private animal shelters, were very different. In 2019, Virginia private animal shelters, in the aggregate, took in 19,250 dogs and 21,837 cats. They euthanized 821 dogs and 1,356 cats, i.e., 4.3% of the dogs and 6.3% of the cats. Private animal shelters as a whole in Virginia adopted out 14,475 dogs and 15,787 cats, or 75% of the dogs and 73% of the cats.
PETA has defended its high euthanization rate in the past with graphic photographs of the hard cases and non-responsive references to its spay and neuter program. But the organization does not explain why its numbers are so dramatically different than other shelters in Virginia. It is not credible that virtually all the hopeless canine or feline cases just happen to end up in Norfolk.
What goes on in PETA’s “shelter” appears to be another example of the “better off dead” philosophy at work. In fact, PETA, along with other animal rights organizations, once brought a case to enjoin a group of U.S. zoos from importing elephants from Swaziland that otherwise were set to be culled. PETA’s counsel told the judge in open court that “given the choice plaintiffs would rather see the elephants dead than in a zoo.” Born Free USA v. Norton, 278 F. Supp. 2d 5, 25 n.4 (D.D.C. 2003) (emphasis added).
For my money, to the extent that a dog or a cat has the capacity to be offended by being called a “pet,” it is better off enduring that sling and arrow of outrageous fortune than being killed in PETA’s “shelter.”