PETA: A Shelter of Last Resort

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The organization's senior vice president of communications responds to an earlier Atlantic article about how PETA euthanizes thousands of cats, dogs, and other animals every year.

Part of a print public service announcement from PETA PETA

PETA was floored by the title and tone of James McWilliams' article about PETA's euthanasia of some of the saddest dogs and cats in Virginia. While we appreciate that the editorial included some points on our perspective, it did a disservice to homeless animals by failing to examine the causes of and ways to reduce euthanasia -- something PETA works on every day. It waved aside PETA's vital preventative work -- from the more than 10,000 no-cost to low-cost spay-and-neuter surgeries we performed last year in Virginia alone to the time, money, and effort we spend promoting shelter adoptions and spaying and neutering -- to focus on Nathan Winograd's comments against our organization and against PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk, thereby leaving The Atlantic's readers with a grossly incomplete picture of what PETA does and why. The fact is that we do more than almost any group to reduce euthanasia, and more than most to clean up after members of our society who sorely neglect animals and create such misery to begin with.

We do more than almost any group to reduce euthanasia, and more than most to clean up after members of our society who sorely neglect animals.

The fact that PETA will take in even the most broken animals may not "change the fact that Virginia animal shelters as a whole had a much lower kill rate of 44 percent," but it does explain it. That's because PETA refers adoptable animals to the high-traffic open-admission shelters rather than taking them in ourselves, thereby giving them a better chance of being seen and re-homed. As for the "no-kill" shelters, their figures are great because they slam the door on the worst cases, referring them, in fact, to PETA. We operate a "shelter of last resort," meaning that when impoverished families cannot afford to pay a veterinarian to let a suffering and/or aged animal leave this world, PETA will help, free of charge. When an aggressive, unsocialized dog has been left starving at the end of a chain, with a collar grown into his neck, his body racked with mange, PETA will accept him and put him down so that he does not die slowly out there. As Virginia officials speaking of PETA's euthanasia rate acknowledged to USA Today, "PETA will basically take anything that comes through the door, and other shelters won't do that."

The vast majority of the animals with whom PETA interacts are not part of that count. They do not enter our custody at all, because we do everything possible to ensure that they remain with their families. In addition to free veterinary care, including sterilization surgeries, PETA provides bedding, shelter, food, and counseling so that low-income families can keep their dogs and cats instead of abandoning them at shelters. We do this for tens of thousands of animals every year, but the state of Virginia only counts the animals who are given into our custody -- often, specifically so that we might grant them a peaceful death.

Every time someone attacks PETA -- or any other organization -- for doing the heartbreaking work of cleaning up after a throwaway society that thoughtlessly buys, breeds, and discards animals, the puppy millers, breeders, and irresponsible guardians who create the homeless animal overpopulation crisis get off scot-free. At PETA, we know that the only way to a "no-kill" nation is to stop bringing more puppies and kittens into a world that does not offer them the chance for a home. Pointing a finger at us does nothing to help the animals who are suffering today and won't stop animals from having to be euthanized tomorrow. The only way to stop euthanasia is mandatory spaying and neutering and a full-scale ban on breeding -- a fact that this article, unfortunately, ignored. For more information on what people can do to help, visit PETA.org.

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Lisa Lange is a senior vice president of communications at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

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