WASHINGTON D.C.–PETA general counsel and vice president of corporate affairs Jeffrey S. Kerr in mid-March 2008 sent demand letters to the internationally distributed animal advocacy newspaper Animal People, Universal Press Syndicate columnist and PetConnection.com blogger Gina Spadafori, California celebrity animal advocates Shane and Sia Barbi’s web site service provider, and no-kill sheltering advocate Nathan Winograd, objecting to at least some of the content of web postings detailing the PETA history of killing homeless dogs and cats.
Kerr told Animal People that the article “PETA staffers face 62 felony counts in North Carolina,” in the July/August 2005 edition of Animal People, “contains outdated information and should be either removed from the website or updated.”
The 2005 article was and is currently accessible at the Animal People web site only in the Animal People online archive of all back editions, along with all other editorial content of the July/August 2005 edition. The article described the charges filed against PETA employees Adria J. Hinkle and Andrew B. Cook, after police arrested them in the act of disposing of dog and cat carcasses in a supermarket dumpster.
As Animal People pointed out to Kerr, the July/August 2005 coverage was updated in the March 2007 edition, the first edition published after Hinkle and Cook were acquitted of the felony cruelty charges, but were convicted of littering.
The North Carolina Court of Appeals on April 15, 2008 overturned the littering conviction. Judge Rick Elmore wrote for the court that while the defendants’ actions leading to the conviction were undisputed, the prosecution had failed to prove that the supermarket dumpster where Hinkle and Cook left the remains of numerous cats and dogs was an illegal place to dispose of them.
Trial testimony established that PETA has for approximately seven years routinely collected and killed animals from North Carolina shelters and animal control agencies. Usually the animals’ remains are transported back to the PETA headquarters and cremated, but Hinkle acknowledged that on several occasions she disposed of animal remains in the supermarket dumpster where she and Cook were arrested.
Kerr objected to Spadafori that in her PetConnection blog of March 25, 2008, she falsely alleged that in 2006, “97% of the animals who arrived at PETA ‘in search of new homes’ were killed.”
Wrote Kerr, “The animals that you are referencing were not brought to PETA to find new homes. These animals were brought to, or picked up by, PETA because they were unadoptable for a variety of reasons, and had been surrendered precisely because they were not adoptable.”
Spadafori had cited data published by the Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services. Spadafori derived the 97% figure by dividing the 1,960 cats and 1,030 dogs whom PETA declared as “Surrendered by owner” by the 1,942 cats and 988 dogs whom PETA declared as euthanized.
Spadafori responded to Kerr in part by posting a letter sent to Daphna Nachminovitch of PETA, cc. to Kerr, by Marilyn G. Haskell, DVM, MPH, of the agency’s Office of Veterinary Services.
Wrote Haskell, “The State Veterinarian’s Office of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services requires recordkeeping and reporting of only those animals that are taken into custody by releasing agencies for the purpose of adoption.”
PETA and the State Veterinarian’s Office of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services have had ongoing discussion of the PETA declarations. Haskell’s letter was issued in the context of seeking a correction.
Spadafori in her March 28 Pet-Connection blog had questions for PETA, many of them amplified by Editor & Publisher in coverage of the situation posted that same day:
“Were there medical examinations by a veterinarian, and written records of the same for each animal killed?,” Spadafori opened.
“A behavioral analysis by a qualified behaviorist, and written records of the same for each animal killed? May we see them? Or were these determinations made by the animal’s previous owners, and if so are there the signed forms standard at every veterinary office and shelter making sure the previous owner understands that they are turning the animal over to be killed? May we see those forms?
“Alternately,” Spadafori asked, “may we get the names of all the previous owners so we can ask each and every one of them if it was their understanding that the animal was unadoptable and would be killed when they surrendered the animal? So we can ask, exactly, what they were told by PETA?
“If PETA staff made these determinations that the animals were unadoptable,” Spadafori continued, “may we have the names of these people and see their qualification to perform such tasks? Are they veterinarians or certified behaviorists? May we see the records of their medical and behavioral determinations that these animals were not adoptable? May we see PETA’s guidelines for determining adoptability?”
Spadafori did not take into account that PETA also claimed to have received 4,398 cats and 2,132 dogs from “Others,” meaning neither individual animal keepers nor “Another Virginia Releasing Agency,” meaning animal shelters and animal control agencies within the state.
These numbers compare closely to the 4,410 cats and 2,131 dogs whom PETA claimed to have “returned to owner.”
The latter claim is somewhat mysterious.
PETA does not actually have any visible high-volume program to return lost animals to their homes, for instance by tracing microchips or I.D. tags, or by publishing “found pet” notices, yet in 2006 claimed to have achieved nearly 25% of the total returns to owners achieved by all animal agencies in Virginia combined.
PETA does, however, operate a dog and cat sterilization program. In a standard response to people who inquired about the North Carolina animal killing program, distributed in June 2005, soon after Hinkle and Cook were arrested, PETA stated that “In the last year, we have spayed/neutered more than 7,600 dogs and cats,” a number reasonably close to the sum of the 5,193 cats and 2,566 dogs (7,759) whom PETA claimed to have “returned to owner” in the 2005 fiscal year.
One way to read the data that PETA declared to the state of Virginia is that PETA may have declared animals received for sterilization surgery as received from “Others” than individual animal keepers and “Another Virginia releasing agency.”
When those animals went home after surgery, they may have been listed as “returned to owner.”
This is not conventional shelter record keeping. Animals received only on a temporary basis, for sterilization, or boarding, or training, are not customarily reported by animal shelters as either intake or RTO.
As Marilyn G. Haskell of the Commonwealth of Virginia Office of Veterinary Services pointed out in her letter of May 10, 2007 to Daphna Nachminovitch of PETA, “Businesses that are providing a service for animals such as grooming, veterinary treatment or surgery, and boarding are not required to report animal numbers to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.”
Of note is that PETA has not always declared eye-popping “returned to owner” numbers.
According to older Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services records, PETA in 2003 killed 1,911 of 2,225 animals received: 86%.
This was a sizable increase from 63% of animal intake killed in 2000, and was actually more animals than were killed by 75% of the animal control shelters in Virginia–even though PETA is not an animal control agency.
After the PETA killing volume drew some media notice and public criticism, PETA in 2004 claimed that 5,144 of the 7,287 cats it received were “returned to owner,” along with 2,499 of 2,955 dogs received after having declared that only one animal was “returned to owner” in 2003.
In 2004 this would have been 68% of all the cats and 10% of all the dogs who were returned to their homes in all of Virginia.
Including animals received from “Others” as “returned to owner” had the net effect of appearing to increase the PETA “save rate” in handling impounded animals, without actually changing anything.
PETA objected to Winograd’s commentaries exploring why PETA kills dogs and cats, at a time when adoption/rescue and fostering networks have joined humane societies in providing more alternatives for treating, rehabilitating, and rehoming shelter animals than ever before.
“In the blogs posted on your website on September 17, 2007 and March 3, 2008, regarding PETA employees’ work in North Carolina,” Kerr wrote to Winograd, “you falsely stated that the animals involved in the incident were adoptable and that, ‘It is irresponsible for PETA to break laws and kill animals in the face of alternatives.'”
As in writing to Animal People, Kerr noted that Hinkle and Cook were acquitted of the criminal charges, but did not mention that they were convicted of littering. As in writing to Spadafori, Kerr contended that “all of the animals surrendered to PETA personnel were unadoptable for a variety of reasons, and had been surrendered precisely because they were not adoptable.”
Hinkle was acquitted of three felony counts of obtaining animals under false pretenses. Similar charges against Cook were dropped when Superior Court Judge Cy Grant reduced the original charges to eight misdemeanors before sending the case to the jury. Grant ruled that the prosecution failed to prove malice, essential for a felony conviction.
But while Hinkle was acquitted of criminally misleading Hertford County, North Carolina veterinarian Patrick Proctor and several of his employees, who had turned a mother cat and two kittens over to her, the acquittal did not alter their testimony and belief that the mother cat and two kittens that Hinkle collected from the Ahoskie Animal Hospital were adoptable, and should have been offered for adoption.
Though the adoptability of any animal is inherently a judgement call by the decision makers for the agency holding the animal, Procter and staff made clear that they did not turn the mother cat and two kittens over to PETA “because they were not adoptable.”
Instead, Proctor and staff testified, they believed that the cat and kittens would at least be offered for adoption.
Winograd, who is an attorney and former prosecutor, and Shane and Sia Barbi, had not yet made any public response to PETA when this article was published.
The anti-animal advocacy Center for Consumer Freedom claimed indirect credit for provoking Kerr’s letters.
“Since our wildly popular PETA Kills Animals website debuted in 2005,” CCF posted only hours after Spadafori posted her questions for PETA, “more than six million people have seen its startling message. And public knowledge that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals killed more than 97% of the dogs and cats in its care during 2006 has surely made the group uncomfortable. PETA’s response strategy so far has generally been to ignore its self-inflicted credibility problem in the hope that it will go away. But lately we’re seeing signs that PETA’s legal pit bulls are trying to intimidate journalists who are inclined to amplify the truth.”
Animal People has several times exposed Center for Consumer Freedom links to animal use industries, beginning in December 2004 and most recently in November/December 2007, after exposing a predecessor organization, the Guest Choice Network, in April 2002.
Animal People has also reported often about PETA efforts to secure First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and press on behalf of animal advocates.