The Butcher of Norfolk
March 27, 2009 by Nathan J. Winograd
The blog I write is about reforming animal sheltering in the United States. It is about ending the systematic killing of animals in these pounds. But this particular blog isn’t about sheltering. This isn’t about the battle between the No Kill philosophy and its eventual conquest over regressive, kill-oriented approaches. This isn’t about a lazy, inept, or uncaring shelter director who fails to hold his or her staff accountable. It isn’t about shelters that kill animals because doing so is easier than putting in place the programs and services to stop it.
This is about something more nefarious. This is about something truly insidious. This is about a bully who seeks out animals to kill. This is about the creation of death squads that actively go into communities with the specific purpose of finding dogs and cats to kill. And this is about a movement that has utterly failed to defend the innocent animals being slaughtered. This blog is about Ingrid Newkirk, the President of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). This is about an animal killing, arrogant, disturbed person. And enough is enough.
Since 1998, PETA has killed over 20,000 animals. Over one year ago, I wrote a blog opining that the reason PETA slaughters virtually every animal it seeks out and “impounds” has more to do with Ingrid Newkirk’s dark impulses than with any ideology, philosophy, or belief in overpopulation. This followed a staggering 97% kill rate for animals in 2006, despite millions of animal loving members, a world-wide reach, and a budget of tens of millions of dollars. It followed the killing of 1,942 out of 1,960 cats they impounded. It followed the deaths of 988 out of the 1,030 dogs they impounded. It followed the killing of 50 of the 52 rabbits, guinea pigs, and other animals they took in. It followed the killing of the one and only chicken they impounded. That blog earned me a letter from PETA’s attorney threatening litigation for defamation.
Then came the 2007 numbers showing a 91% rate of killing—the killing of 1,815 of the 1,997 animals they impounded. And so I reran the blog. And now we have the 2008 figures and the slaughter—the needless, senseless, evil slaughter—continues with an equally staggering 96% kill rate. A paltry seven dogs and cats were adopted. A paltry 34 were transferred to an SPCA whose fates are not known. And out of 2,216 dogs and cats impounded, the rest were systematically put to death by PETA.
Killed: 555 of the 584 dogs.
Killed: 1,569 of the 1,589 cats.
PETA has argued that all of the animals it kills are “unadoptable.” In fact, PETA’s attorney stated that in his letter threatening a defamation lawsuit if I did not back down. But this claim is a lie. It is a lie because the numbers historically come from the State of Virginia’s reporting form which only asks for data for animals taken into custody “for the purpose of adoption.” It is a lie because PETA refuses to provide its criteria for making that determination. 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. And it is a lie because Newkirk herself admitted as much.
In a December 2, 2008 interview with George Stroumboulopoulos of the Canadian Broadcasting Company, 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 short, Newkirk admits that PETA “absolutely” kills savable animals. Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely.
Why does the animal protection movement tolerate this woman?
No other movement would allow someone to remain in her position without a massive outcry and public condemnation when their actions are so counter, so anathema to their movement’s foremost principles. The child protection movement would not allow someone who kills children to run an organization dedicated to children’s rights. The human rights movement would not allow someone who kills people to run any of their organizations. But the animal rights movement—a movement founded on the principle that animals have a right to life—allows a very public, avowed, shameless animal killer to run an animal rights organization. And with the exception of Friends of Animals, the rest of the nation’s animal rights groups remain deafeningly silent about it.
As if that was not shameful enough, others go further and actually embrace her. The groups which organize the Animal Rights Conference inducted her into their Animal Rights Hall of Fame. Wayne Pacelle and HSUS have allowed her and her pro-killing apologists to give workshops at their national conference, HSUS Expo, to promote PETA’s ghastly vision of killing.
So a notice to all would be animal killers out there. One way to avoid the condemnation by the animal rights/welfare community for your vile actions is to start an animal rights group yourself and use that group as your cover for killing. Because they won’t stand up to you. There will be no campaign to bring you down. They will kowtow to your power and your position. You will become their colleague. Some will look the other way. But others will induct you into their hall of fame. Still others will ask you to present workshops at their national conference.
If history teaches us anything, however, it is that the only way to stop a bully is to stand up to one. The only thing that will stop Newkirk is challenging Newkirk and calling her killing for what it is: the nefarious acts of a disturbed person. Because that’s how history will remember and condemn her, despite the aura of legitimacy her untoward actions now receive from her Board of Directors, the Humane Society of the United States, the groups who promote the Animal Rights Conference, and the other groups which tolerate her leadership position through their silence.
While those who now dare to call Newkirk’s slaughter for what it is may be threatened with litigation, or be attacked in other ways, history will vindicate them, as it always does for those who—despite the personal costs—defend what is right by challenging tyrants. While those who remained silent in the face of these atrocities—the hypocritical leaders of other organizations who take her telephone calls, shake her hand, stand side-by-side with her, and take personal pride in their association with her—will someday have to answer for this complicity, and will face the shame that comes with answering “nothing” when asked what they did to stop Newkirk’s bloody reign at PETA.
Because engrave this in stone: As soon as Newkirk and her pro-killing cultish devotees are gone, PETA will immediately, completely, and without reservation embrace the No Kill philosophy and become one of its leading champions. When that happens; when her actions are thoroughly and completely seen by everyone for what they truly are; when she is condemned and finally, finally, thankfully, finally, we don’t have to hold our breath, clench our teeth, shake with rage, or cry at the thought of what PETA did to those poor animals, we will all be left wondering just what took us so damned long to rise up and stop this villain in our midst.
So here it is again: Round 3. Munchausen by PETA. My opinion.
Munchausen by PETA?
In search of a diagnosis as to why Ingrid Newkirk and PETA seek out animals to kill. And a plea for the movement to stop them so that they won’t continue killing.
In 2006, an official report from People for The Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) shows that they took in 3,043 animals, of which 1,960 were cats, 1,030 were dogs, 52 were other companion animals, and one was a chicken. Of these, they killed the chicken, killed 1,942 cats, 988 dogs, and 50 classified as “other companion animals.” They found homes for only 2 cats, 8 dogs and 2 of the other companion animals.
By the numbers:
- PETA killed 1,942 of the 1,960 cats, finding homes for only 2.
- PETA killed 988 of the 1,030 dogs finding homes for only 8.
- PETA killed 50 of the 52 other companion animals (rabbits, guinea pigs, etc.), finding homes for only 2.
- PETA killed the chicken they took in.
That’s a 97% kill rate. (This was based on PETA’s own reporting to the Commonwealth of Virginia, which only requires “recordkeeping and reporting of only those animals taken into custody… for purposes of adoption.”) Despite $30 million in revenues, they found homes for only 12 animals. An additional 21 cats and 25 dogs were transferred to another agency (likely a kill shelter since PETA has a “policy against No Kill shelters.”) The rest were put to death. Why?
I’ve tried to explain it by the simple observation that the founder of PETA, Ingrid Newkirk, formerly held a job killing homeless dogs and cats at the Washington Humane Society, a shelter with a consistently poor record for saving lives and the subject of historical public acrimony for its over-reliance on killing. But, in my opinion, there appears to be something more disturbing going on here than Newkirk’s history.
It can’t simply be explained by catch phrases like “they are hypocrites” and “they don’t really care.” Those are terms which No Kill proponents may use to describe Newkirk’s and PETA’s position on killing dogs and cats, but they don’t explain it. Nor is this simply a disagreement between No Kill supporters and traditional “catch and kill” proponents. That is the debate going on with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), where their reputations and donations are being threatened. But with PETA, there appears to be something much more nefarious at play.
While Newkirk tries to shield her actions by wrapping them in the language of opposition to “No Kill,” PETA neither has an animal control contract, nor do they operate as a rescue group. Any effort to offer a lifesaving alternative to killing is dismissed as “no clue” or “warehousing animals” and any dissent by employees or volunteers is allegedly punished by termination or ousting from the group. In talking with an ex-PETA employee, he indicated that during a staff meeting, he was subjected to a PETA video of this kind (No Kill equals hoarding). Having lived in San Francisco during the 1990s when No Kill was in its heyday there and the San Francisco SPCA the nation’s premier shelter, he openly questioned the veracity of the information and was asked to his supervisor’s office and terminated.
Why? The closest analogy or explanation that I have found which appears to fit is the same phenomenon that causes nurses to kill their patients, some offshoot of Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome (See Attack of the Killer Nurses: A look at a curious phenomenon – nurses who kill their patients, National Review, May 28, 2001). In the typical case, the nurse or caregiver kills the patients with lethal injections. They often claim they act from “compassion for their ailing victims,” because they want “to end their suffering,” and because they and their colleagues are “severely overburdened.” In their minds, they are the heroes and those who try to stop them are turning their backs on their patients.
The corollary to PETA’s language about “Euthanasia: The Compassionate Option,” about “overburdened” shelter workers, and about giving animals what Newkirk calls “the gift of euthanasia,” and how “it was the best gift they’ve ever had,” is eerily similar. In her case, she also believes she is the hero and those who try to stop her are turning their backs on the animals. (She recently blasted a No Kill supporter by stating: “How dare you pretend to help animals and turn your back on those who want an exit from an uncaring world!”) Indeed, Newkirk-through-PETA says that blaming shelters for killing animals is like blaming hospitals for killing patients. Is Newkirk trying to tell us something?
Unfortunately, I have no psychological evaluation to support such a diagnosis, except for similarity of language and the acts themselves: the fact of the killing, the death squads, the indoctrination against No Kill, the hateful denunciation of No Kill, and the proactive efforts to stop communities from trying to embrace No Kill principles.
So what is it? (PETA-apologists have suggested that Newkirk has seen terrible suffering and worries about animals, but this is nothing more than Orwellian double-speak. I was a prosecutor. I’ve seen and handled cases involving torture, child rape, murder, arson of animals, and other acts of unspeakable cruelty. I was also an animal control director in a shelter which investigated and prosecuted horrific crimes against animals. I’ve seen terrible suffering to which is why I want to end it, regardless of whether it comes at the hands of a single abuser or systematically by killing)
We may never know. But what we do know and what I can say is that animal rights and animal welfare groups should reject this point of view and actively campaign against it not only for the dogs and cats PETA will kill in the future and whose interests they theoretically exist to protect, but because it undermines our movement’s credibility when we either ignore the atrocities PETA is committing against animals, or make excuses for it simply because those perpetrating them claim to be part of our movement. Moreover, PETA’s position that animals in shelters do not have a right to live subverts the entire foundation upon which all social justice movements are inherently based.
The right to life is universally acknowledged as a basic or fundamental right. It is basic or fundamental because the enjoyment of the right to life is a necessary condition of the enjoyment of all other rights. A movement cannot be “rights” oriented as PETA claims to be and ignore the fundamental right to life. If an animal is dead, the animal’s rights become irrelevant. Not only does PETA not acknowledge the right to life, they have rejected it saying that they “do not believe in right to life,” as it relates to dogs and cats.
Of more immediate concern, it is the relationship between Americans and their animal companions that can open a door to larger animal rights issues. In their daily interactions with their dogs and cats, people experience an animal’s personality, emotions, and capacity both for great joy and great suffering. They learn empathy for animals. It is not a stretch that someone who is compassionate—and passionate—about their pets would over time and with the right information be sympathetic to animal suffering on farms, in circuses, in research facilities, and elsewhere.
Right now, however, the nation’s largest self-proclaimed “animal rights” group is actively working to ensure that that door is never opened—by actively and proactively arguing that dogs and cats do not have the right to life, and that killing them is an act of kindness. In my opinion: It is beyond ironic. It is beyond hypocritical. It is beyond a betrayal. It is beyond obscene. Regardless of whether you believe in “animal rights” or you don’t; regardless of whether you are a vegetarian or not; regardless of where you stand on animal issues unrelated to animal sheltering, I believe PETA’s position is insane.
And despite the fact that PETA’s annual killing of thousands of dogs and cats has been common knowledge among the leaders of our nation’s animal welfare and animal rights groups for years, most of these so-called “leaders” have chosen to look the other way. In fact, HSUS invites Newkirk and her cronies to give presentations at their national animal sheltering conference. Two years ago, Newkirk gave a video presentation on what amounted to why Pit Bulls should be killed and this year, one of her devotees will share PETA’s strategy for how to engage in “damage control” and “public relations spin” when a shelter or community which kills is challenged by No Kill proponents. Why are groups like HSUS supporting her? Do they hate the movement to end the systematic killing of shelter animals which No Kill represents so much that they are willing to embrace a person and organization this zealous in support of the killing of dogs and cats? The “enemy of my enemy is my friend” can’t be it, can it? Is HSUS so threatened by No Kill that they are willing to embrace an organization which appears to be working to undermine their other platforms? With friends like these, the animals truly do not need enemies.
In my opinion, PETA’s position on killing of dogs and cats is irresponsible. But as to the question of why they do it, I am not a psychiatrist and I very much doubt that Newkirk and her followers will submit to a psychological evaluation. As a result, I am afraid I have no clear answer, though my personal opinion leans toward Newkirk suffering from the mental illness of Munchausen by Proxy. And if I am correct, she will never stop killing until she is forced to.
PETA’s Board of Directors, PETA employees, other animal welfare groups, and animal rights activists need to stop drinking the Ingrid Newkirk Kool-Aid. They must stop making excuses for the killing of animals. They need to openly reject views that need to be explained in the pages of the Journal of Psychiatry. And, if they are to protect the thousands of animals whose lives are at future risk from PETA, they must work to remove the political cover provided by her association with PETA which allows Ingrid Newkirk to continue to act on what I believe are deeply disturbing impulses that result in animals being killed.
Please note: The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the writer and no one else, nor any agency or organization. The author is an attorney and notes that the communications are protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Any attempt to infringe on that right, whether actual or threatened, will be considered a strategic lawsuit against public participation.