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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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