Articles PETA

A Call to Investigate PETA


The Hon. Gregory D. Underwood
Commonwealth’s Attorney
800 E. City Hall Avenue Suite 600
Norfolk, VA 23510

Dear Mr. Underwood,

Virginia law, § 19.2-191(2), empowers the state’s commonwealth attorney to order a grand jury to “investigate and report on any condition that involves or tends to promote criminal activity, either in the community or by any governmental authority, agency or official thereof.” I am writing to ask that such a panel be convened to investigate the actions of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which is based in Norfolk.

This past October, two employees for PETA stole Maya, a beloved family’s dog off her porch in order to put her to death. Knowing that no one was around—not only because they knew the schedules of the family, but because they paid local children money to leave the area—one of the employees went onto the property and stole Maya. In addition to violating the larceny statute, Virginia law requires dogs to be held for five days before they can be killed by shelters. It also requires private shelters like PETA to notify the municipal animal control shelter of any “stray” dogs they take in. PETA did neither. Within hours, Maya was dead. PETA had killed her with a lethal dose of poison.

Maya’s killing was not the first time that PETA employees have been taken to task over their taking and killing of animals. In a North Carolina criminal trial against two different employees, jurors heard similar testimony. That case would prove even more sordid than Maya’s. In Ahoskie, North Carolina, police were dispatched to a Piggly Wiggly Supermarket after officials there noticed a strong odor coming from the supermarket dumpster and, upon investigation, discovered the body of an animal in a trash bag. As police rummaged through the dumpster, they found the bodies of 21 dead dogs in garbage bags. Two weeks later, 17 dogs and three cats were discovered in the same dumpster. After a surveillance operation, detectives witnessed two PETA employees in a white van—similar to the one used to steal Maya—dumping 16 more bodies into the dumpster. The employees were arrested. Inside the van were boxes of trash bags, PETA manuals, and a tackle box containing syringes, needles and bottles of a liquid substance, later determined to be the drug used to kill animals. They also discovered the bodies of eight more dogs and 12 cats, including a mother cat and her two kittens picked up just minutes earlier from a local veterinarian after PETA promised they would have no trouble finding them a home.

At trial, the PETA staff who killed the animals admitted to doing so and further admitted that the animals were healthy, calling them “adorable” and “perfect.” But the fact that they were healthy did not spare any of the animals the needle—nor did the fact that they promised the people they received the animals from that they would find them homes. They were doing the job PETA paid them to do; and that job was to acquire and kill animals.

Since that time, a former employee has come forward with even more damning evidence showing that PETA not only has a history of lying to the public to acquire animals for the purpose of killing them, but abusing its ability to possess and use the controlled substance used to kill animals. Explaining that killing healthy animals at PETA was not an anomaly but rather “standard operating procedure” Heather Harper-Troje, the wife of a U.S. diplomat who is serving at the American embassy in Honduras and one-time PETA field worker, publically uncovered the inner workings at PETA. “I know from firsthand experience that the PETA leadership has no problem lying,” she wrote. “I was told regularly to not enter animals into the log, or to euthanize off site in order to prevent animals from even entering the building. I was told regularly to greatly overestimate the weight of animals whose euthanasia we recorded in order to account for what would have otherwise been missing ‘blue juice’ (the chemical used to euthanize), because that allowed us to euthanize animals off the books. I was told regularly to say whatever I had to say in order to get people to surrender animals to me, lying was not only acceptable, it was encouraged.” The purpose of seizing these animals, according to Harper-Troje, was “to euthanize the[m] immediately.”

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 tasked with protecting 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 refuses to pull PETA’s “shelter” license, choosing instead to fine it a mere $500, a 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 says PETA is operating to “the great detriment of animals in the  Commonwealth;” despite violating the law, lying to people, stealing pets, and killing them, PETA continues operating as before, unapologetically killing thousands of defenseless animals ever year.

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 with virtual impunity. And it is the perception that they exist to protect, rather than imperil, animals which causes reluctance on the part of public officials tasked with oversight, even with compelling evidence that PETA has a history of stealing owned pets and putting them to death in violation of law, lying to or misleading people when they take their animals and put them to death, and other illegal conduct. To continue to ignore that threat and danger—to continue to allow them to operate outside the bounds of our common values and law and to do so with impunity—puts other animals at risk and is a recipe for future regret.

Very truly yours,

Nathan J. Winograd


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