Celebration & Sober Reflection on the Passage of SB 1381 (& What You Can Do)

sheltercats

Photo: A shelter is a refuge. But for the vast majority of cats rounded up or otherwise impounded by PETA, the only thing PETA staff offer them is an overdose of poison to satisfy Ingrid Newkirk’s dark impulses. In 2014, PETA took in 1,605 cats and killed 1,536 (a kill rate of 96%). They transferred another 43 to kill shelters. If they were killed or displaced others who were killed, that would put the cat kill rate as high as 98%. They found homes for only 16, an adoption rate of 1%.

This week, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed SB 1381, a law which requires shelters in Virginia to be “operated for the purpose of finding permanent adoptive homes.” In other words, SB 1381 does what the public already thinks shelters do and what the dictionary says they do, even though PETA, which is located in Virginia, does not. In fact, the bill was introduced in a response to PETA—which is licensed in Virginia as a shelter—killing over 90% of the animals, with little to no effort to find them homes and their stealing Maya, a happy and healthy dog, from her porch while her family was out and killing her that very day. Since its passage, we’ve also found out that they killed five other animals that day, including two kittens and a six month old puppy, also in violation of state law.

Despite PETA’s intense lobbying effort to derail the vote which became known among legislators as the “anti-PETA killing bill,” despite PETA hiring a professional lobbyist with donor funds to kill it, despite manipulating their supporters to urge its defeat by lying to them, the votes were not even close: 95 to 2 in the House and 35 to 1 in the Senate. Not only does the outcome prove that participating in the political process—as thousands of Virginians did by writing, email and telephoning their Delegates urging a “yes” vote—can have a profound impact, but it shows that PETA has lost all credibility with the Virginia legislature and the governor who signed it into law.

Not only was a law just passed to protect animals from PETA, but the bill also forced PETA to further reveal its true colors: that an organization claiming to represent the “ethical treatment of animals” would hire a lobbyist at donor expense to defeat an important piece of animal protection legislation demonstrates once again that PETA is not committed to furthering the rights of animals, but rather, to actively subverting them, as more and more people are finding out.

In fact, the Governor’s signing of the bill comes just days after the State of Delaware, through the head of one of its agencies, wrote a letter to PETA asking them to stop lying about their shelter standards law. In 2010, Delaware legislators unanimously passed the Delaware Companion Animal Protection Act (CAPA), an important piece of animal protection legislation based on a model law authored by my organization, the No Kill Advocacy Center. By eliminating the ability of shelters to kill animals out of habit and convenience, the law has been wildly successful, reducing killing in Delaware shelters by nearly 80%.

Despite its success in Delaware and other places, PETA has vilified this law, saying that it has been a disaster there, forcing shelters to turn animals away. As I have long argued, none of it is true. In keeping with their many efforts over the years to derail laws nationwide which protect shelter animals, PETA has even written public officials in other communities debating the implementation of CAPA-like laws, urging them to reject such laws which they misrepresent and malign. In short, they do what they have always done: they lie.

Thankfully, the Delaware Office of Animal Welfare (OAW) has recently weighed in to respond to PETA’s misrepresentations, chastising PETA for lying. The OAW is a state agency that oversees implementation of Delaware’s shelters, including CAPA, through the Department of Health and Social Services. In their response to PETA, they write that what PETA is claiming “is simply not true. PETA does not have local representation in Delaware and is obviously not familiar with our sheltering system.” They also go on to explain the incredible success of the law, how it has saved countless lives, and prevented emotional heartbreak for the families and caretakers and rescuers of those animals.

From that standpoint, the passage of SB 1381 is incredibly good news. However, we fought for the bill not to simply force PETA to reveal its true colors, but to actually save lives, and if history is any indication, our next battle is getting the agency in charge of enforcing this new law to actually do so.

Given that PETA has always admitted it does not operate a shelter for the purpose of finding homes, given that the evidence is clear they do not, and given that Ingrid Newkirk once stated, unapologetically, “We are not in the home finding business, although it is certainly true that we do find homes from time to time for the kind of animals people are looking for. Our service is to provide a peaceful and painless death to animals…. ”, VDACS has no choice but to remove their shelter designation and eliminate PETA’s ability to round up animals and to purchase the lethal drugs used to poison them. That is, it has no choice if it is committed to doing its job. But so far, it has refused to do so.

For Maya, PETA’s crime resulted in her death. For her family, it has led to immense heartbreak. Maya lived with a nine-year-old girl who, according to the family’s spokesperson, was utterly devastated by her killing. But the agencies which are supposed to protect dogs like Maya and the people who love them have turned a blind eye. Although two PETA employees were arrested and charged with larceny by the Accomack County sheriff, the Commonwealth attorney refused to prosecute. Despite video evidence that they stole Maya and an admission that they killed her, the prosecutor claimed he could not prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Despite clear evidence that PETA has violated the law on multiple occasions, the Virginia Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (VDACS) refuses to pull PETA’s “shelter” license. It chose to fine it $500, a mere fraction of the $52 million it took in last year. Despite calls for investigations by state senators, county attorneys, national organizations, and the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies which believes PETA to be operating to “the detriment of animals in the Commonwealth;” despite violating the law, lying to people, stealing pets, and killing them; despite the Virginia legislature and governor speaking with one, nearly unanimous, voice that they want PETA’s killing to stop, PETA continues operating as before, killing thousands of defenseless animals with virtual impunity.

Ironically, it is the very double standard between humans and non-humans that most people erroneously believe PETA exists to overcome that has allowed PETA to get away with the harms they have inflicted. And it is the false perception that they exist to protect, rather than imperil animals (which is what they actually do) which causes reluctance on the part of public officials tasked with oversight.

So while I celebrate SB 1381’s passage for all it does mean, and I am immensely grateful to Senator Bill Stanley who introduced this bill, to all the legislators who voted for it, and to the Governor who signed it, and while I understand that as we move the pieces on the chess board, we get closer and closer to checkmating PETA out of the killing business, let’s understand where the challenge now lies: with Virginia law enforcement agencies, most notably VDACS. We must realize that getting VDACS to enforce it will likely involve an additional fight and potentially, litigation. Already, VDACS is stalling, claiming—in typically bureaucratic fashion—that it may take two years to issue regulations for SB 1381. And even as PETA now claims it “has always operated to find adoptive homes and will continue to do so as stated in Senate Bill 1381” in direct contravention of all their prior statements and actions before SB 1381 and which begs the question, “why fight it then?”, my faith that VDACS will do the right thing and honor the intent and desire of the people of the Commonwealth, as they spoke in near unanimity through their elected representatives, could hardly be more lacking. The leadership and staff at VDACS has so far proven itself to be typically bureaucratic, tragically indifferent, fundamentally uncaring, and as is so typical of oversight agencies, willing to overlook PETA’s criminal conduct by bending over backward for the entity they are supposed to be regulating.

While VDACS sits on its hands for the next two years, an additional 4,500 animals will be needlessly butchered at the behest of Ingrid Newkirk’s dark and disturbing impulses and the families of the animals they round up and kill across Norfolk and surrounding areas will be left heartbroken. We must not allow PETA to get away with murder.

What You Can Do:

Don’t let VDACS continue to get away with turning a blind eye and foot dragging. Please send a polite, but emphatic, email to both Sandra Adams, the Commissioner of Agriculture, and to Dr. Carolynn Bissett, the State Veterinarian, that you expect them to do their jobs and honor the intent of the legislature and the will of the people. Tell them that PETA kills 90% of the animals it takes in, that it steals people’s animals and puts them to death in violation of state laws and regulations, that it has always maintained it is “not in the home finding business” and has made virtually no effort to do so, and that it has a history of criminal conduct and lying to people in order to acquire and kill animals. As such, it cannot legally be licensed as a private shelter under SB 1381. And while you are at it, tell them that we should not have to wait two years for VDACS to act while PETA kills an additional 4,500 animals.

Dr. Carolynn Bissett: Carolynn.Bissett@vdacs.virginia.gov

Commissioner Sandra Adams: sandy.adams@vdacs.virginia.gov

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