After PETA stole Maya, a family’s beloved dog, in order to kill her, the Virginia legislature overwhelmingly passed SB 1381 to make clear that a “private shelter” was not a tool for PETA to kill animals, but had to be “operated for the purpose of finding permanent adoptive homes and facilitating other lifesaving outcomes for animals.” Unfortunately, the proposed regulations written to implement SB 1381 will allow PETA to continue killing upwards of 96% of all animals, while adopting out only 1% to staff. This is neither what SB 1381 anticipated, nor what the animal-loving people of Virginia desire or deserve. SB 1381 was written to condition PETA’s licensure as a private shelter to it behaving as one. In my letter to the Members of the Board of Agriculture & Consumer Services, I ask them to vote No on the proposed regulations and to adopt regulations that will honor the singular intent of SB 1381: put PETA out of the killing business.

April 28, 2017

Steven W. Sturgis, President,
And Members of the Board of Agriculture & Consumer Services
VDACS
P.O. Box 1163
Richmond, Virginia 23218

Re: SB 1381 Proposed Regulations

Dear Mr. Sturgis and Members of the Board,

The No Kill Advocacy Center is a national, not-for-profit organization dedicated to ending the unnecessary killing of dogs, cats, rabbits, and others in our nation’s animal shelters. On behalf of our Virginia members and supporters, I am writing to urge a No vote on the proposed regulations promulgated pursuant to SB 1381.

SB 1381 was written for one reason: to stop People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) from rounding up and killing almost all the animals it takes in. PETA kills upwards of 96% of all animals, including healthy puppies and kittens, while only adopting out 1%. The proposed regulations fail to achieve that singular goal.

PETA Does Not Run a Shelter

Despite the fact that SB 1381 designates a “private animal shelter” as one “operated for the purpose of finding permanent adoptive homes and facilitating other lifesaving outcomes for animals,” PETA does not maintain a facility to adopt animals. There are no cages or kennels at PETA’s Norfolk location. While PETA claims it has three rooms designated to house animals, a Virginia Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (VDACS) inspection found “no animals to be housed in the facility.” A subsequent inspection found only three: “one being held in conjunction with the [spay/neuter] clinic operations, one was being boarded for an indigent community member, and one on behalf of a PETA employee.” Despite rounding up and taking in thousands of animals every year, no animals were being held “for the purpose of finding permanent adoptive homes.” As such, PETA headquarters is not a shelter. At best, it is an office used to kill animals and for other purposes.

PETA staff also admitted to the VDACS investigator that PETA does not run a shelter: “The [PETA] receptionist stated that PETA did not operate an animal shelter” and “an additional staff member was called to the desk and reiterated that there was no shelter.” Furthermore, Ingrid Newkirk likewise admitted in an interview with The Virginian-Pilot that, “We are not in the home finding business…”

In addition, VDACS inspections found:

  1. PETA’s alleged “shelter is not accessible to the public, promoted, or engaged in efforts to facilitate the adoption of animals taken into custody.”
  2. “PETA reception has historically been unaware of the existence of an animal shelter, and has stated to enquiring members of the public that no such facility exists.”
  3. “PETA has published suggested guidelines for animal shelters on their website that indicate their organizational preference for the operation of such facilities; their own facility does not satisfy many of the key recommendations.”
  4. “The agency is not aware of any substantive efforts to facilitate adoption of animals taken into custody.”
  5. “Review of submitted annual animal record summaries by PETA and all reporting animal shelters for the past six years does not support the facility has a primary intent to find permanent adoptive homes for companion animals.”

PETA Promotes the Extinction of Dogs, Cats, and Other Animals

Since it does not run a shelter, PETA’s killing has nothing to do with sheltering; nor does it have anything to do with people not sterilizing their animals. Employees who have spoken out say it is the result of the deeply disturbing version of animal activism promoted by PETA founder and President, Ingrid Newkirk. They explain how employees are made to watch “heart wrenching” films about animal abuse to instill in them the belief that people are incapable of caring for animals and that “PETA was doing what was best for animals” by killing them. PETA tells its employees that people can’t, don’t, and won’t take care of animals, that the lives of animals with people is one of neglect and abuse, and that living with dogs and cats violates their rights. PETA also claims that animals cannot live without human care, which is why they round up community cats. The animals are, in their, damned either way and thus killing them is a “gift.” Indeed, PETA believes that “it would have been in the animals’ best interests” if the practice of living with dogs and cats “never existed” because living with dogs and cats and other animal companions is akin to a “master” and “slave” relationship. As a result, they believe those animals would be better off if they did not exist at all: “Let us allow the dog to disappear from our brick and concrete jungles—from our firesides, from the leather nooses and metal chains by which we enslave it.”

With the belief that the “solution” to all dog and cat suffering lies in their eventual extinction, PETA not only preaches that the lives of dogs and cats are dispensable and that their deliberate elimination of no moral consequence, it puts those beliefs into practice by embracing and engaging in an agenda of pet extermination.

In addition to rounding up community cats in order to have them killed, virtually all the animals taken in by PETA from the public are also killed without ever being offered for adoption. Indeed, PETA staff who do not want animals killed have tried to discourage people from surrendering animals. One described witnessing “pets being surrendered with the owners under the impression that these pets were going to PETA’s shelter for adoption (which does not exist).” When another PETA staff member informed people “trying to surrender pets that they would be euthanized,” she was chastised for doing so and instructed by PETA managers to only hand them a form which gives PETA the authority to immediately kill the animal.

PETA also has a history of acquiring animals through theft and other false pretenses in order to kill them. In 2014, for example, PETA stole Maya—a beloved, healthy dog belonging to a Virginia family—off her porch and immediately put her to death. It was not the first time. Rescuers, private individuals, shelters, and veterinarians have stated that they turned over animals to PETA after PETA promised to find homes only to learn that PETA killed the animals, in some cases within minutes of taking them. Nor is Maya’s abduction the first time that PETA employees have been arrested over their taking and killing of animals. In a 2007 criminal trial against two different PETA employees, jurors heard similar testimony. As such, PETA is using its designation as an animal shelter to deceive the public and acquire animals for the purpose of killing them.

The Proposed Regulations Fail to Meet the Substantive Goals of SB 1381

Despite this evidence, VDACS claims it lacks the authority to revoke PETA’s sheltering license. For stealing and killing Maya, it fined PETA $500, an insignificant amount given $50,000,000 in annual revenues. To rectify this “gap” in existing law, SB 1381 was overwhelmingly passed by both chambers of the legislature and signed into law to make clear that a “private shelter” designation is not a tool for PETA to kill animals, but requires it to be “operated for the purpose of finding permanent adoptive homes and facilitating other lifesaving outcomes for animals.”

Instead, the proposed regulations require an agency to do only three out of the following five activities:

  1. Advertise to the general public animals that are available for adoption;
  2. Transfer animals to a shelter or rescue group;
  3. Offer services to the public to keep animals in their homes;
  4. Utilize foster care;
  5. Be accessible to the public.

There are no enforceable metrics within any of those requirements and no expectation that a facility implement them with any degree of rigor. In other words, if PETA sterilizes animals for the public (which it does as doing so is consistent with its focus on eliminating animals), rounds up animals to deliver to other “receiving agencies” for the express purpose of having those animals killed (which it does), and occasionally uses social media to post about a dog (which it does infrequently), it would meet the proposed regulatory definition of a “private shelter” even though it still would not be “operated for the purpose of finding permanent adoptive homes and facilitating other lifesaving outcomes for animals.”

These proposed regulations will allow PETA to continue killing upwards of 96% of all animals, while adopting out only 1% to staff. They will allow PETA to continue killing animals right away without offering them for adoption. They will allow PETA to continue lying to people by telling them they’ll do their best to find animals a home and then kill them right away. They will allow PETA to continue rounding-up community cats to deliver them to their deaths. And if its employees and contractors once again steal and kill a family’s beloved companion, as they did with Maya, they will allow PETA to simply pay a small fine. In short, these regulations allow PETA to remain, as Ingrid Newkirk herself admits, decidedly not “in the home finding business.” This is neither what SB 1381 anticipated, nor what the generous, animal-loving people of Virginia desire or deserve.

Recommended Regulations to Honor the Intent of SB 1381

Mr. Sturgis and Members of the Board, for the vast majority of people, the bond they share with their animal companions is a familial one, born of love and mutual affection. To PETA, by contrast, these relationships are exploitive and the animals deserving of death. To continue to allow PETA to operate outside the bounds of our common values and to do so with impunity is a recipe for future regret not only for the thousands of animals the proposed regulations will allow them to continue killing, but also for Virginians who do not want those animals to die.

We can neither bring Maya back, nor bring back any of the other animals PETA killed under false pretenses. And we will forever remember their killing as many things: tragic and heartbreaking, chief among them. Nothing can alter that calculus. But we can lessen the futility of their deaths if we learn from it and alter our society in such a way as to prevent such a betrayal from ever happening again. That is what SB 1381 sought to do on behalf of Virginians who were rightly outraged when news of Maya’s theft and killing spread.

Please stand firm in honoring the intent of SB 1381. Not only should the regulations require rigorous, rather than token-level, implementation of all of the mandates in the proposed regulations, but they should also require private shelters to remain in compliance with all other laws and regulations and to maintain daily adoption hours when the public can visit to adopt animals.

Most important of all, mandating that shelters maintain a live release rate of at least 60% for impounded animals would result in quantifiable accountability and force the change at PETA the legislation was intended to foster. This is still well below the Virginia average: Private shelters in Virginia combined saved 93% of dogs, 85% of cats, and 94% of rabbits and other animals in 2016.* As such, it would condition PETA’s licensure as a private shelter to it behaving as one, with standard operating procedures already common to other private shelters in the Commonwealth. Alternatively, if the organization chose to remain defiant, it would do what SB 1381 set out to do: put PETA out of the killing business.

Very truly yours,
Nathan J. Winograd

* Even many U.S. municipal shelters have higher live release rates: placing 98%-99% of all animals.

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