PETA's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad History of Killing Animals

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The organization, which claims to be dedicated to the cause of animal rights, can't explain why its adoption rate is only 2.5 percent for dogs.

Image: Bogdan Cristel/Shutterstock

In 2011, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) behaved in a regrettably consistent manner: it euthanized the overwhelming majority (PDF) of dogs and cats that it accepted into its shelters. Out of 760 dogs impounded, they killed 713, arranged for 19 to be adopted, and farmed out 36 to other shelters (not necessarily "no kill" ones). As for cats, they impounded 1,211, euthanized 1,198, transferred eight, and found homes for a grand total of five. PETA also took in 58 other companion animals -- including rabbits. It killed 54 of them.

These figures don't reflect well on an organization dedicated to the cause of animal rights. Even acknowledging that PETA sterilized over 10,500 dogs and cats and returned them to their owners, it doesn't change the fact that its adoption rate in 2011 was 2.5 percent for dogs and 0.4 for cats. Even acknowleding that PETA never turns an animal away -- "the sick, the scarred and broken, the elderly, the aggressive and unsocialized..." -- doesn't change the fact that Virginia animal shelters as a whole had a much lower kill rate of 44 percent. And even acknowledging that PETA is often the first to rescue pets when heat waves and hurricanes hit, that doesn't change the fact that, at one of its shelters, it kills 84 percent of supposedly "unadoptable" animals within 24 hours of their arrival.

Nathan Winograd insists that PETA's kill rate is due not to poor management but to "something more nefarious."

When I contacted PETA for a comment on these numbers, Amanda Schinke, a spokesperson for the organization, sent a thoughtful and detailed response. In it she explained how "euthanasia is a product of love for animals who have no one to love them." She called their killing a "tragic reality," one that forthrightly acknowledges how "sometimes [animals] need the comfort of being put out of their misery -- a painless release from a world in which they were abused and unwanted." Noting that PETA, unlike many "no-kill" shelters, turns no animal away, Schinke added, "we do everything in our power to help these animals." The harsh reality behind the grim numbers, she noted, should never be forgotten: "Millions of homeless animals are euthanized in animal shelters and veterinary offices across America because of simple math: too many animals and not enough suitable homes."

But is this really a simple math problem? Nathan Winograd doesn't think so. Winograd, a Stanford Law graduate and former corporate lawyer, is the author of Irreconcilable Differences: The Battle for the Heart and Soul of America's Animal Shelters. When the data on PETA dropped, he posted a scathing article insisting that the organization's almost 100 percent kill rate was due not to laziness or poor management but to "something more nefarious." Winograd asserts that PETA's failure to find homes for impounded companion animals is the result of founder Ingrid Newkirk's "dark impulses." Performing a virtual psychological vivisection, Winograd diagnoses Newkirk as a "disturbed person," a "shameless animal killer," and the executrix of a "bloody reign" of terror over dogs and cats. At one point, he even compares her to nurses who get a thrill from killing their human patients.

Look past the rage, though, and it becomes clear that Winograd has an important case to make. In PETA's response to me, Schinke wrote, "Winograd dishonestly and viciously attacks all open admission shelters, those that do not shut the door to any animal, even those for whom peaceful release is a mercy." This is another way of saying that because PETA accepts so many dire cases, cases in which euthanasia may very well be justified, it should be excused for killing over 99 percent of the animals under its care. Winograd, however, argues persuasively that PETA euthanizes far more than just the unadoptable cases. In the following excerpt from his blog, he reveals that Newkirk admits to killing animals that are "adoptable":

In a December 2, 2008, interview with George Stroumboulopoulos of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Stroumboulopoulos asks Newkirk: "Do you euthanize those pets, the adoptable ones, if you get them?" To which Newkirk responds: "If we get them, if we cannot find a home, absolutely."

In an email to me, Winograd elaborated, noting that when The Daily Caller asked PETA "what sort of effort it routinely makes to find adoptive homes for animals in its care," PETA responded with the ever convenient "no comment." He also observes that the numbers PETA reports historically come from Virginia, which compiles data only for animals taken into custody "for the purpose of adoption." Winograd thus concludes that PETA's claim that it kills so many animals because they are unadoptable is, as he puts it, "a lie." He goes on:

It is a lie because rescue groups and individuals have come forward stating that the animals they gave PETA were healthy and adoptable. It is a lie because testimony under oath in court from a veterinarian showed that PETA was given healthy and adoptable animals who were later found dead by PETA's hands, their bodies unceremoniously thrown away in a supermarket dumpster. It is a lie because, according to The Daily Caller, "two PETA employees described as 'adorable' and 'perfect' some of the dogs and cats they killed in the back of a PETA-owned van."

So yes, Winograd is angry. But even if his argument is only half right, an animal rights organization with a $30 million budget should be able to do a whole lot better.

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James McWilliams is an associate professor of history at Texas State University, San Marcos, and author of Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly.

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