mom2nomads

ahhh, the life of a diplomatic princess . . .

My Complaint to the Virginia Department of Agriculture Against PETA

On Tuesday I got some pretty disappointing news (to put it mildly), in response to my request to file a complaint against People for the Ethical Treatment of animals with the Virginia Department of Agriculture. This was what I emailed to them on February 13:

Good Afternoon,

I would like to file a complaint against People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in regards to what, I believe, happens within their Community Animal Project.

Fifteen years ago I worked for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in the Community Animal Project division as a Field Officer. I would like very much to have a chance to give you my first hand account of the practices within PeTA towards the animals that they take in to their “shelter” (I use quotes because, during my time there, there was no actual shelter beyond an empty closet and the warehouse where animals were killed). I realize this was fifteen years ago but it is my deeply held belief, based on events that have been covered in the news in the years since my employment, and because I am very familiar with the mindset of the President of PeTA, Ingrid Newkirk, that nothing has changed within the organization regarding the treatment of companion animals.

 The short version is this:

 *Contrary to what PeTA maintains, the vast majority of animals that were surrendered to PeTA  during my tenure were not sick, old, severely damaged, etc. Many were, in fact, perfectly healthy and adoptable — these include kittens, puppies, and well socialized and maintained animals. Those are animals that would be available for adoption immediately in a conventional shelter or rescue, at PeTA they were killed, in the great majority of cases the same day as their surrender. While a portion of the animals we took in did have some challenges they were minor (worms, fleas, lack of proper nutrition, etc.) and could easily have been dealt with in a proper foster home. There were some animals who were in quite bad shape, (severe tick infestations, severe malnutrition, etc), these were the minority, but, again, easily rehabilitated.

 *Contrary to what PeTA maintains, the vast majority of animals who we killed were not surrendered by owners for humane euthanasia but were surrendered, the owners thought, in order to be placed up for adoption. We were told to say whatever we needed to say in order to get an owner to surrender, lying was encouraged. Meaning, we knew the animal would be killed but told the owner the animal would be placed up for adoption.

 *When I worked at PeTA we were routinely told to doctor the logs where we recorded the use of phenobarbital, a controlled substance for which you need a license (as you are aware) in order to allow us to kill animals off the books. For example, if a dog was 40 pounds you would list him/her as 50 pounds, this would give you room to then kill a 10 pound animal off the books and still account for the amount of phenobarbital that you used. So the number of animals killed was actually even higher than what was recorded.

In the interest of full disclosure I was fired from PeTA, not because I was bad at my job but because I no longer wanted to follow orders I had come to see as immoral, and because I dared to confront Ms. Newkirk when I disagreed with her (an absolute no-no at PeTA). I am not a disgruntled employee, as some would assert. My husband was, at the time, a TV anchor and reporter, I knew half the journalists in town, if I’d wanted revenge for my firing I could have done it then in a very grand and public way. But I just wanted to leave everything in the past and try to forget PeTA and what I had done there. The work of killing animal after animal with very little reprieve or chance of hope is soul crushing, and mine was dying. I was grateful for the catalyst of being fired. I have decided to speak up now because I can no longer live with the weight of this knowledge, and because I want to help create change for the animals whose lives were stolen when I worked at PeTA, those since, and those at risk in the future.

 Again, I know my experiences are from fifteen years ago but I deeply believe, based on stories like the theft of Maya the chihuahua last year, that nothing has changed and I ask that my account be taken into consideration. It is my own opinion that PeTA’s license for controlled substances should be revoked so they are no longer able to engage in the killing of the vast majority of the animals they bring in.

 When I emailed this to them I did not consider it to be my formal complaint, rather the reasons (in a nutshell) I wanted to file a complaint. But they took it as the complaint, I guess it doesn’t make much of a difference because this is what I received in response:

     I am in receipt of your complaint against People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Thank you for your sincere interest in the welfare of animals in Virginia.

     The alleged actions that you describe occurred before PETA established a private animal shelter. This department has limited oversight over the private animal shelter currently operated by PETA; it does not have any authority over licensing for drugs. The Board of Pharmacy and the Board of Veterinary Medicine in the Virginia Department of Health Professions has authority over drug complaints and licensing.

     Once again, thank you for bringing your concerns to the attention of this Department.

A few things went through my head after I read the response and, honestly, I’m still scratching my head over it because, ultimately, it just sounds like a “sorry, not our problem” response. But if it isn’t their problem then whose problem is it?

What I’m hoping is that the newly passed SB 1381,* which “clarifies that the purpose of a private animal shelter is to find permanent adoptive homes for animals,” will change how the Department of Agriculture deals with PETA. I guess that will depend on if this response comes from a place of apathy or from a true lack of ability to do anything due to the absence of adequate laws. My concern is that PETA will find ways to skirt the law and that, if the Department is apathetic (rather than lacking teeth), they will be allowed to do so.

*SB 1381 still needs to be signed into law by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. If you are a Virginia resident please call his office at 804-786-2211 and urge him to sign SB 1381. The animals of Virginia need us to speak for them, and to give them a law that will protect.

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18 thoughts on “My Complaint to the Virginia Department of Agriculture Against PETA

  1. The response is typical for a bureaucratic agency, but I suspect you got someone’s attention. Have you sent this to any Virginia lawmakers? I suggest you cc everyone you can reach, flood legislative and government agencies with this. Don’t forget the media, either! Someone will have the courage to look deeper. I sincerely hope so. But if not, you will have learned something. Don’t give up, this isn’t a problem that can be solved immediately, but the more attention you receive the better for the animals and people who care about animals.

    You probably know this, working for the government, but bureaucratic agencies are almost immune to public opinion, and have a lot of leeway with their policies, not accountable to the public much. Elected officials are your best bet, and don’t forget the sheriffs departments, sheriffs are elected.

    • That they are, and it’s my understanding that the Sheriff in Accomack County, where Maya lived, was not happy that the case against the PETA employee who stole and killed her was dropped. I’ve got some “next steps” lined up, I’m not giving up.

  2. Barbara U on said:

    Hi Heather. I’m very familiar with PETA’s CAP program in lower VA and northern NC. I used to live in Norfolk. I have volunteered for straw delivery with CAP on weekends, and I have delivered straw to many dogs who live 24/7 on chains. I’ve seen bone-thin dogs, dogs who are used for fighting, even a dog whose owner didn’t even give him a name. He just lives on a chain in her back yard, and she throws food to him every once in a while. We urged her to relinquish him. She said no. He has a hellish life. Think of how much he suffered during the recent cold snap when the temperature got in the single digits at night. (I know I don’t have to tell you this–you saw it all yourself. I’m mostly writing it for other folks who are reading your blog.)

    I’m really thankful for the work you did in CAP. It’s a demanding, heartbreaking job. But in your blog posts, it seems to me that you’re leaving out a crucial part of the equation. You’ve written as though this was the situation: Black Boy died because of PETA–if it weren’t for PETA, he would have been adopted and have lived a happy life. But that’s not the situation. The situation was: Black Boy’s suffering ended because of PETA–if it weren’t for PETA, he would have continued to suffer for years on the end of a chain.

    You know what kind of life the animals were living when people relinquished them to you. I respectfully pose the following two questions: 1) Do you honestly think they would have been better off if you hadn’t been there? 2) Do you think the suffering of animals in Hampton Roads would decrease if PETA didn’t exist?

    Best wishes to you. Even though we don’t see eye to eye on this issue, I respect you for trying to make the world a better place for animals.

    • Hi Barbara, thank you for your comment and questions. I believe strongly in the work that CAP does in the field — it’s vital and I hope very much that it continues. I believe, also, that taking Black Boy off his chain that night was the right thing to do, I’m sure he would have frozen to death otherwise. The problem is not CAP’s field work, the problem is what happens once animals like Black Boy are taken in by PETA. With, I believe, a minor amount of rehabilitation Black Boy would have been adoptable. Ideally here’s what should have happened — a foster network would have already been established prior to removing Black Boy from his chain, I would have contacted a foster once he was removed from his chain, and then brought him there. Then, as the one he already trusted, I would have worked with the foster on establishing trust between them and, once that was established, I would have turned him over to their expertise. This is done in large and small shelters and rescues all over the world, the vast majority of whom have far fewer resources than PETA, there is absolutely no reason PETA can’t do this as well. Taking Black Boy off his chain was only half the work, ensuring that he then went on to have a good and full life was the other half — leaving that half out was a betrayal of him and continues to be a betrayal of the animals PETA takes in.

  3. Heather,

    Please believe there are many amazing people out there that WOULD have found black boy a good happy home. Look alone at Richmond SPCA & Charlottesville SPCA (They took in more animals (Yes severe cases (Look at Richmond SPCA Web site & these have or are in the process of being adopted)) then PETA in 2013 & had amazing SAVE rates-It’s about ATTITUDE & LEADERSHIP that makes the difference! There will always be irresponsible owners (We’ve all seen it! Nathan Winograd doesn’t deny that), but there are a lot of GOOD people out there willing to step up to the plate (I personally know so many people who have step up to the plate to care for animals w/ significant needs-There are those up for the challenge (Attitude & leadership!). We recently had a My furry valentine mega adoptions (Valentine weekend) w/ local shelters & rescues participating. At our main adoption place for the event (Not including our several satellite locations-still waiting for a count), we were able to adopt nearly 600 animals (Lots of people worked very hard for this event w/ promoting it-It paid off! 🙂 )! We all have an ethical & moral obligation to care for these unconditional loving beings that have no voice-They are very resilient if given a chance!!!!!

    Keep being the leader for your belief (Lots of people behind you!!!!). Those of us that are not Virginian residents need you to push for SB 1381 to be signed into law (I’d be at the Governor’s office, calling ect if I were. I’m very proactive & lobby in DC & home town/city for my profession. I agree w/ the comment above w/ elected officials-Don’t quit (Let the past continue to motivate for change!!!!!!)!!!!!!

    • Barbara U on said:

      Again, this comment ignores a crucial part of the equation, namely: If it weren’t for PETA, who would have gotten Black Boy off the chain? Not the Richmond SPCA, not the Charlottesville SPCA, and not Nathan Winograd.

      • Mary Drayer on said:

        Barbara, PETA fieldworkers are not the only people in Virginia actually in the trenches helping animals. There is a group in Charlottesville that provides outdoor dogs with wooden houses and straw. They modelled their program after PETA’s. The difference is that when they are able to get the dogs’ human guardians to relinquish ownership, they do not kill the dogs. They find them new homes with people who can care for them properly. There is no reason why PETA cannot do the same. And that is the real issue here — not whether or not animals would be better off if PETA didn’t exist.

        It is dishonest for PETA to insist that companion animals have only two options–a life of suffering or death–and to use that as a justification for their extremely high kill rate. There is a third option called rehoming. Even small, open admission rural shelters in Virginia with higher intake numbers than PETA make more of an effort to give the animals they care for a second chance, and with success. I agree with Heather that this is a betrayal of the animals PETA takes in. If they aren’t willing to treat each animal as an individual and to make every effort to find each a caring home, they shouldn’t be taking in animals at all.

      • Mary & Heather have said it well!!!!!!! This is the point of SB 1381. It would not change anything that PETA is doing except what they are doing with the animals once in their possession. I agree with Heather that there is no reason why PETA can’t do it (PETA took SIGNIFICANTLY LESS animals than Richmond & Charlottesville (& yet Richmond & Charlottesville had AMAZING SAVE RATES w/ SIGNIFICANTLY LESS MONEY THAN PETA) & no there are not ONLY severe cases in Norfolk. I challenge you if this is still your belief to step outside of Norfolk/PETA territory & visit other shelters (& not just once-get really involved to see the full picture!)-seeing is believing!), not to mention their mass wealth compared to other shelters that are doing what Heather alluded to on a shoe string budget. PETA should have been saving animals along vs killing them, but again it has always been about attitude & leadership! ADVOCATING for the Signing SB 1381 into law is a moral & ethical responsibility of ALL RESIDENTS OF VIRGINIA that truly care about the well being of companion animals!!!!!!!!!

    • Hi Pam, thank you for this wonderful comment! I love to hear about the amazing rescue work people are doing, it gives me so much hope. I believe there are a lot of good people out there who not only want to do good work, they need to because they realize the importance of it and how many lives depend on them. And I absolutely could not agree more that it is about attitude and leadership. The attitude at PETA, in my experience, is that people are not good and most people (those outside their circle) are not good enough to care for animals. Part of the reason I was disintegrating is because I was coming to hate humanity, not only because of all of the horrible things I saw on a daily basis in the field but because of the attitudes within PETA towards humanity that I was starting to believe. You cannot live with those attitudes and remain a whole and balanced person. I have contacted the Governor’s office, I will do so again. While I do not live in Virginia I am still a Virginia tax payer and I will continue to advocate as such. Thank you so much for your support and encouragement and keep rocking your amazing, life-saving, works!

  4. Reblogged this on SiameseCatTwins4Ever and commented:
    Virginia Residents, Please Tell Governor McAuliffe to sign SB 1381 into law. Spread the word.

  5. Reblogged this on "OUR WORLD".

  6. Heather- I know it seems like buck passing, but agencies are limited to activities they are given express authority to regulate. Maybe I am reading something in to the response, but it seems to me they are encouraging you to take your concerns to the Virginia Department of Health Professions, which has jurisdiction.

    • Mary & Heather have said it well!!!!!!! This is the point of SB 1381. It would not change anything that PETA is doing except what they are doing with the animals once in their possession. I agree with Heather that there is no reason why PETA can’t do it (PETA took SIGNIFICANTLY LESS animals than Richmond & Charlottesville (& yet Richmond & Charlottesville had AMAZING SAVE RATES w/ SIGNIFICANTLY LESS MONEY THAN PETA) & no there are not ONLY severe cases in Norfolk. I challenge you if this is still your belief to step outside of Norfolk/PETA territory & visit other shelters (& not just once-get really involved to see the full picture!)-seeing is believing!), not to mention their mass wealth compared to other shelters that are doing what Heather alluded to on a shoe string budget. PETA should have been saving animals along vs killing them, but again it has always been about attitude & leadership! ADVOCATING for the Signing SB 1381 into law is a moral & ethical responsibility of ALL RESIDENTS OF VIRGINIA that truly care about the well being of companion animals!!!!!!!!!

  7. Joyce King on said:

    I’m utterly flabbergasted that anyone still tries to defend peta. The followers are brainwashed cult members. Anyway, I hope you won’t give up on this!

  8. SB 1381, is a Bill that would require Virginia’s Animal Shelters to…well….. SHELTER pets, like a shelter should.

    Recently SB 1381 was voted on by the House delegates of Virginia, and was PASSED by an overwhelming 95-2 vote.

    PLEASE call Governor Terry McAuliffe today, at 804-786-2211, and urge him to sign this Bill (SB 1381) into law. Calls are being tallied, so this matters: phone, and insist that your friends phone as well. If this legislation is thwarted, despite the best efforts of citizens and their elected representatives, it will be a disaster for the animals of Virginia

  9. P.S. The above post, urging animal lovers to call Governor McAuliffe is intended for VIRGINIA residents only. Virginia residents, PLEASE call Governor Terry McAuliffe today, at 804-786-2211, and urge him to sign this Bill (SB 1381) into law

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