Ultimately, the culture was terrifying and desensitizing — and I gradually felt that my view of death, of taking animals’ lives, was being warped, my emotions being stripped away.
Joining the ranks of former PETA fieldworker Heather Harper-Troje, another employee has come forward by name to tell about her experiences at PETA killing animals and the stifling, cult-like atmosphere that pervades the organization; a culture she described as “terrifying and desensitizing.”
Laura Lee Cascada, a PETA employee, reveals an organization that terrorizes both animals and employees. Cascada’s chilling account describes the method whereby employees are intimidated and emotionally manipulated into participating in the killing of animals, an act that came to be euphemistically called to “take care of” an animal (the words “killing” and even “euthanasia” are not used). Employees who questioned the need to kill healthy animals were fired: “Former employees who were forced to participate in euthanasias they didn’t believe in. People who were fired because they refused to do so.”
Cascada’s account also describes numerous examples of healthy animals who were killed for the “good of all animals.” Such animals included a happy and healthy pit bull her mother wanted to adopt, and a bird for whom she had personally cared for many weeks but was ordered killed when her mate died.
Her account includes getting chastised for trying to find homes for cats through rescue groups. The view by PETA leadership, she writes, is that rescue groups, “were usually fronts for massive hoarding operations with animals languishing in their own waste and perishing from a variety of ailments without any veterinary care” and animals would be better killed than rescued.
It include lying to someone who found a kitten and thought PETA would save her, but instead delivering the kitten to her death:
I responded to a call from a concerned woman who’d found an abandoned days-old kitten under her porch. When I came to pick up the kitten, I had her sign a generic give-up form that spelled out that euthanasia was a possibility. But I was instructed to repeatedly convey that we would do our absolute best, and so that’s what I said, even as the woman described her careful search for an organization she knew would work around the clock to help this tiny being pull through. It was my job to make sure I did not leave without that cat — that I said whatever necessary for the woman not to change her mind.
The entire way back to PETA’s Norfolk, Virginia, headquarters, I sobbed, petting the infant cat in my lap, telling her things would all be OK, even though in my gut I knew it wouldn’t, that she never really had a chance. I even began plotting out how I might take a detour and deliver her to a rehabber instead. But how could I explain a missing kitten to the woman waiting with the needle? I couldn’t, so I complied without a word.
Killing a healthy bird as a condition of employment:
I rescued and cared for a pair of birds from a cruelty case for weeks, bonding with and growing to love them. When the decision was made to euthanize the boy because of a debilitating medical condition, the girl was also euthanized because it was thought that she would be lonely without him. She was one of those lumped into the ‘unadoptable’ category PETA brushes past as it explains its euthanasia statistics each year. I was expected and required to swallow my emotions for her for the good of all animals. I was expected to welcome her death as a positive outcome in order to maintain my employment.
People getting fired for questioning the decision to kill healthy animals:
[I]f an employee, like many animal rights advocates who believe in the rights and autonomy of each individual animal, wanted to critically assess whether a euthanasia decision was truly the best thing for an individual animal in his or her unique circumstances, there was a real, true fear of being branded as an advocate for hoarding or a secret supporter of the enemy. Thus, speaking up could have meant being booted from the tribe.
The cult-like indoctrination of starry-eyed young people:
[A]s most new PETA employees are blooming animal rights activists, freshly plucked from college and determined to do whatever it takes to succeed in this demanding, low-paying activist world, PETA’s methodology of indoctrination is quite successful. These employees soak it all in like a sponge, as I did at the age of 21 when I started there, and begin to spout the organization’s soundbites at every turn. They will start to do so so naturally that they can’t see where they themselves end and the organization begins.
Cascada further describes the manner in which fear and intimidation cause a chilling silence of free expression and inquiry at PETA, including employees’ fear of asking follow-up questions regarding the status of animals admitted to PETA: “Yet very few dared to submit questions that remotely challenged the prevailing ideology.”
She also reports that she publicly defended PETA over the years using contrived “mental gymnastics” to defend the indefensible, including an article in The Dodo, which she now rejects.
As a result of coming forward, she reports that she has been inundated by other, former PETA employees thanking her for her courage, employees who are too afraid to likewise go public with disturbing stories of what they, too, witnessed and participated in during their time at PETA. She writes:
Since I finally spoke out on Facebook, I have heard anonymously from many. People whose work for animals in the community was attacked by PETA because it didn’t fall in line with the organization’s views on rescue work. Former employees who were forced to participate in euthanasias they didn’t believe in. People who were fired because they refused to do so.
Here are some of the other highlights:
Through my work in CID, I rescued and cared for a pair of birds from a cruelty case for weeks, bonding with and growing to love them. When the decision was made to euthanize the boy because of a debilitating medical condition, the girl was also euthanized because it was thought that she would be lonely without him. She was one of those lumped into the “unadoptable” category PETA brushes past as it explains its euthanasia statistics each year. I was expected and required to swallow my emotions for her for the good of all animals. I was expected to welcome her death as a positive outcome in order to maintain my employment.
Another time, I rescued an unloved dog whose body condition and personality were unremarkable, meaning there was no immediate indication for euthanasia. I quickly heard from my mom that she’d be interested in adopting him. I excitedly emailed the manager of the shelter to make this offer but never received a reply. A few days later, I checked in with her and was told that he had already been killed. There was no explanation given. But he was a pit bull, a breed who has often been central to many of these more mysterious cases, and I was petrified to ask for any further details. I stayed silent.
Yet very few dared to submit questions that remotely challenged the prevailing ideology. Ultimately, the culture was terrifying and desensitizing — and I gradually felt that my view of death, of taking animals’ lives, was being warped, my emotions being stripped away.
One former worker who came to me anonymously also noted, ‘Most of [euthanasia] staff believes that their ability to euthanize animals makes them ‘badass’ — to not want an animal euthanized is considered ‘weak.’ I strongly believe this is due to the fact that staff is desperate for the approval of supervisors, primarily [the head of CID].’ The employee continued, ‘Considering how passionately PETA believes ‘euthanasia’ is an act of mercy (which it often is), they do not internally use the term. Rather they use the phrase ‘take care of’ — which, I believe, is to help them become desensitized to the procedure.’
This employee also informed me, ‘When questions would arise from non-CID staff regarding the whereabouts of surrendered animals (who had just been euthanized), I was told to direct them to [the head of CID] — as it was known that staff would be too intimidated to actually pursue asking her.’
In wrapping up this piece, I was drawn to some additional food for thought. In his work on modern cults, psychologist Len Oakes writes, ‘[T]he follower is embattled; to squarely confront the many failings of the leader and the group is to call into question one’s own great work. Only by daily recommitting himself can the follower continue to work toward his ultimate goal. Each follower works out a secret compromise, acknowledging some things while denying or distorting others. Clearly this is a high-risk strategy that may go awry.’
Since publishing this story, I have been contacted by individuals from all over the country expressing their gratitude, and their own fear, about speaking out about their experiences. People who worked at PETA and were forced to lie about euthanasias, people who were forced to euthanize animals they loved as a condition of their employment, and people who were told by leadership that they were worthless. There are dozens, and maybe hundreds, of us. Most are still afraid to break their silence.
The article, “When the Crusade for Animals Falls Victim to Oppression,” is here.
Note: There is internal inconsistency between the first and second half of her first-hand account — one that praises PETA with platitudes and perpetuates disproven dogma and the second half of the article which completely eviscerates the first half by providing concrete examples of the dishonest, oppressive, hostile, and dangerous environment that exists at PETA for animals and humans alike.
Have a comment? Join the discussion by clicking here.