PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — For months, 10 On Your Side has pushed PETA for answers, after a local family claimed a PETA worker stole their dog, then killed it. Now, for the first time, we’re hearing what the organization has to say.
In November, home surveillance video captured a woman walking onto the front porch of an Eastern Shore home, picking up a chihuahua, then driving away with the dog in a vehicle with PETA’s logo on the side. The dog’s owner says the woman returned three days later and said the dog had been euthanized.
Since then, PETA has remained silent while 10 On Your Side reporters, protesters and other members of the public, animal advocacy groups and state lawmakers have asked for answers about the incident.
In fact, two state senators went so far as to introduce Senate Bill 1381, which takes aim at PETA by trying to redefine the role of private animal shelters in the state of Virginia. The bill is simple. It moves four words from the end of a paragraph of existing legislation to the beginning: “find permanent adoptive homes.”
The change would not forbid euthanasia at private shelters, but make it clear that all private animal shelters, PETA included, must have as one of their purposes to find permanent adoptive homes for animals.
The proposed bill sparked a war of words between PETA and those who oppose it.
“It’s a small bill, really. It got to be a big deal, but the bill merely closes a loophole in the definition,” said Debra Griggs with the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies.
Griggs has supported SB1381 from the beginning, and a few weeks ago, the bill quickly passed the Senate. When it got to the House, PETA hired a lobbyist to fight it.
10 On Your Side received copies of emails from the PETA-hired lobbyist that were sent to all members of the Virginia House of Delegates. The emails read, in part:
Last fall a PETA worker made a major error – and her contract was terminated for that. In the course of rounding up strays in a trailer park (with the landowner’s permission), the worker also captured a companion animal. Then the worker broke PETA regulations and state law and the dog was put down right away and not held for several days, as required. The commonwealth’s attorney investigated and no charges were brought. An administrative complaint process is about to be concluded, and PETA expects to pay a fine and sign a consent resolution. But VDACS will not shut that operation down because of one error. PETA readily and with regret admits the error.
You wouldn’t think about this if so many of you didn’t just hate PETA. I don’t use the word hate lightly.
Do what you want about this bill — if you want to shut PETA down, take a crack at it by voting yes.
The lobbyist was trying to stop delegates from passing SB1381. Senator Bill Stanley, who proposed the legislation, said the did so, in part, because PETA’s kill rate is “startling and unsettling,” about 80 percent of the animals it takes in.
So, why is there such vehement opposition to a bill that would change four words in existing state law? Griggs thinks she knows why: “[PETA] took in over 2,600 dogs and cats in 2014 and adopted 39. It does not appear they have a commitment to adopting out animals. So ,this really does threaten their operations,” she said.
Sharon Quillen Adams MPA with Virginia Alliance for Animal Shelters offered an opposing position:
This bill implies the only measure of a shelter is adoption, where is the mercy for those which are unadoptable? Where is the recognition for those shelters in locations where unemployment is 15% and adopting an animal is simply not happening in that community? Where does the animal owner go who does not have $200 to pay a veterinarian to euthanize his/her sick or injured animal — do we just leave it to suffer in the back yard? This bill suggests that private shelters and their donors need to be told by the legislature to try to adopt animals presented to them, that is both insulting and simple-minded.
On Tuesday, the General Assembly’s final vote sent the bill to Governor Terry McAuliffe’s desk for his signature. In response, PETA emailed this statement to WAVY.com:
Moving a few words around in a definition did not create a single home for animals with nowhere to go or change the fact that the old, sick, and injured animals — who comprise most of those PETA takes in when no one else will — need and deserve a merciful release from suffering.
What’s next for SB1381? The Virginia Department of Agriculture is responsible for building regulations to enforce the change, once the Governor signs it into state law. That process could take two years.
Senator Stanley told WAVY.com he hopes to propose a bill next year that will require private animal shelters to keep better records of what animals they take in and why they are euthanized.
PETA’s full statement sent to WAVY.com:
It started out as a spite bill pushed by anti-PETA people who don’t take in a single animal, completely deny Virginia’s dog and cat homelessness crisis, and oppose euthanasia of any animal. While it ended up doing nothing, it wasted time and the opportunity to actually help animals. What Virginia really needs is a bill that gives assistance to indigent animal owners who cannot afford the skyrocketing cost of veterinary care and another one that requires spaying and neutering to prevent unwanted births. Moving a few words around in a definition did not create a single home for animals with nowhere to go or change the fact that the old, sick, and injured animals-who comprise most of those PETA takes in when no one else will need and deserve a merciful release from suffering. We hope to see our legislators visit PETA’s shelter, see what’s really going on out there, and propose legislation that truly helps a sad and dire situation that wishful thinking won’t cure. PETA spends over $1 million a year in Virginia alone providing free veterinary services, counseling people to help them keep animals they were about to leave on a shelter’s doorstep, helping impoverished people desperate to end their animal companions’ suffering, providing animals with emergency veterinary care, moving the most adoptable animals to other high-volume shelters, finding homes for others ourselves, and operating low- and no-cost sterilization clinics that spay or neuter over 10,000 animals a year, more than 112,000 dogs and cats to date. We invite Virginians and everyone else to join us in addressing the homeless dog and cat crisis at its source: Don’t ever buy animals from pet shops or breeders, always adopt from shelters instead. And spay or neuter your heart out!
Senator Bill Stanley’s full statement on SB1381:
I filed SB1381 to make a clear policy statement in Virginia that the primary purpose of any organization that obtains the designation of being a “private animal shelter” is to find permanent adoptive homes for the companion animals that they take into their shelters. The PETA shelter, is not a private animal shelter, but rather has been primarily engaged in the business of unnecessary euthanasia of dogs and cats that could otherwise have found a forever home. The PETA “shelter” has historically had a kill rate of over 80% of all animals that it has taken in, while reputable private animal shelters throughout the Commonwealth have an animal save and adoption rate of over 70%. This statistic is both startling, and unsettling. The egregious euthanasia rate of the PETA “shelter” must come to an end. This bill, which now is on the Governor’s desk for his signature, will be an important law that will stop this unacceptable practice, and will instill confidence in the public that private animal shelters in our state are saving these precious lives, not unnecessarily and arbitrarily terminating them without good cause.
Sharon Quillen Adams full statement to WAVY.com:
Senate Bill 1381 created considerable controversy within the animal welfare community as its intent seems both vague and menacing. Does moving words around in a definition create new adopters anywhere in Virginia, or help animal owners with ill or injured animals to provide veterinary care so they can keep them in their home? There are so many shelters doing great work which need community support, more resources and more adopters, the question is how does this bill help? At the same time as this bill is being heard, the proponents are trying to impose record keeping obligations and administrative tasks on public and private shelters without any regard for how that reduces resources for animals. That won’t find adopters either?
Some shelters pick and choose the animals they decide to take in and to help, turning away the rest. Those shelters choose the most adoptable animals and will turn away the old, the sick, the injured and the aggressive. That was not how shelters used to operate. We used to share the responsibility to help all animals presented to us. This bill implies the only measure of a shelter is adoption, where is the mercy for those which are unadoptable? Where is the recognition for those shelters in locations where unemployment is 15% and adopting an animal is simply not happening in that community? Where does the animal owner go who does not have $200 to pay a veterinarian to euthanize his/her sick or injured animal — do we just leave it to suffer in the back yard? This bill suggests that private shelters and their donors need to be told by the legislature to try to adopt animals presented to them, that is both insulting and simple-minded.