The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is one of the world’s most successful and effective advocacy organizations. Dedicated to the “rights” of animals with a devotion so fierce it borders on fanaticism, PETA activists practice propaganda as an art form and are so skilled at in-your-face advocacy and agitation that executives of the world’s most powerful corporations cow when the PETA activists pound on their doors.
The constant flow of press releases, boycotts, movie-star endorsements, and never-ending (and often funny) street demonstrations–such as the recent “Running of the Nudes
,” a naked protest against Pamplona, Spain’s famous running of the bulls–not only keeps PETA continually in the news, but also serves to mask the organization’s bizarre and rigid ideology. But now with the recent arrest of two of its employees for cruelty to animals in North Carolina, the true weirdness of the cult-like group may finally receive the attention it deserves.
For those who missed it, here’s the story: Adria J. Hinkle, 27, and Andrew B. Cook, 24, were arrested in Ahoskie, North Carolina, after a four-week law-enforcement investigation into the illegal dumping of about 100 dead dogs into area trash receptacles. The illegal dumping began around the time PETA arranged with local animal shelters to transport stray animals that would otherwise be killed in area pounds to their Norfolk, Virginia, headquarters, purportedly to find homes for the animals–or, for the ill and unadoptable, to submit them to euthanasia.
Instead, according to local media reports, Hinkle and Cook allegedly were in possession of a “death kit” when arrested, consisting of “syringes and two drugs that only licensed veterinarians can have.” Neither PETA employee is a veterinarian. The two would allegedly collect the animals from shelters, and rather than transport them to PETA headquarters, kill them immediately, and dump the bodies.
PETA suspended Hinkle and mounted a vigorous defense of its work in North Carolina, (while condemning the alleged dead animal dumping by Hinkle and Cook), claiming it undertook the transportation project due to the inhumane conditions in which the animals were maintained and because the shelters gassed or shot unwanted animals rather than lethally injecting them.
The fact that PETA kills animals may surprise people. It shouldn’t. Even though animal shelters that do not kill are the newest rage in animal-welfare advocacy, PETA isn’t in the animal-welfare business. Its ultimate purpose is not to improve the proper and humane use of animals by people. Rather, it seeks complete and uncompromising “animal liberation,” a vastly different concept from animal welfare that demands the end of any and all uses of animals by humans.
Animal liberationists believe that any human use or control of animals is morally wrong and, by definition, a cause of physical and/or psychic pain and suffering to the animals. In this regard, PETA is absolutist and authoritarian. It literally views animal husbandry, for example, as morally equivalent to human slavery and genocide, as its infamous “Holocaust on Your Plate” vegetarian campaign made vividly clear. Accordingly, PETA seeks nothing less than the eventual obliteration of all animal industries, meat eating, dairy ice cream, leather-shoe wearing, medical research with animals, wool clothing, pets (called animal companions by PETA), horseback riding, zoos, fishing–the list could go on for pages–regardless of any human benefit derived from it or harm that would be caused thereby. Thus, the PETA organizational slogan, “animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment.”
PETA is so intent on rescuing animals from what it views as human tyranny that it doesn’t get worked up over theft, threats, violence, and vandalism by its more radical colleagues, such as the anarchist Animal Liberation Front (ALF), even comparing such actions to the Underground Railroad that freed slaves. Thus, when ALF “liberates” minks to prevent their being used in the fur and pet-food industries–meaning that activists steal and release them–PETA looks on benignly even though the “liberated” animals will probably starve to death. Nor will PETA condemn liberationists who engage in violence and intimidation of insurance-company and bank employees merely for doing business with animal-testing facilities, a deplorable but effective tactic intended to put the laboratories out of business. When I asked PETA’s second-in-command, Bruce Friedrich, to disavow ALF tactics during a debate on the television show Faith Under Fire last year, he refused.
PETA is even willing to see animals killed before they are made proper and humane use of by humans. A classic example of this approach came to light 2003 federal litigation. PETA and other animal-liberationist organizations sued to prevent elephants from being imported from Africa and placed in zoos. The elephants in question were endangering the ecosystem of the world famous Kruger National Park. The court noted that granting the injunction would cause the elephants to be culled rather than save their lives. But the attorney for PETA and its liberationist co-plaintiffs told the court that the pachyderms “will be better off if…killed rather than imported and placed in zoos.”
In a similar vein, in 2002 PETA joined with other animal-rights groups to sponsor a constitutional amendment in Florida that prevented pregnant pigs from being placed in gestation crates, which prevents sows from moving during pregnancy. The groups spent well over $1 million on the project even though Florida was not exactly known as the “pig-farm state.” With no major pork industry in the state to finance the opposition, and after a one-sided campaign, Floridians voted to grant state constitutional rights to pregnant pigs.
When the smoke cleared, it turned out that only two pig farmers in the entire state utilized gestation crates. Since the measure made their businesses untenable financially, the farmers sent their pigs to immediate slaughter–to the general applause of animal liberationists, presumably including PETA. As a representative of the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida put it, “In the big picture, we see that as a good thing. It’s going to lessen their suffering and hasten the end of their miserable lives.”
Back to the North Carolina debacle and PETA’s handling of unwanted dogs and cats: PETA claims that it tries to find good homes for the stray cats and dogs it obtains. But one wonders how hard PETA tries. According to official records dug out by the Center for Consumer Freedom–the food-industry-financed organization that may be PETA’s foremost political opponent–in 2003, of the 2,224 dogs and cats PETA received for placement, only 312 (14 percent) ended up in homes. All but one of the remaining animals were killed. This has been a consistent pattern for years. The Center noted that between 1998 and 2003, PETA took in 13,021 animals. Of these, it killed 10,195, with 2,540 adopted and 261 transferred.
In contrast, animal shelters located near PETA’s headquarters had a far superior adoption-to-kill ratio in 2003. According to the statistics compiled by the Center, the Norfolk SPCA found adoptive homes for 73 percent and Virginia Beach adopted out 66 percent, compared to PETA’s meager 14 percent.
These numbers don’t necessarily prove anything–for example, PETA may merely have had fewer adoptable animals to handle than did the nearby shelters. But then again, they may prove something. A PETA representative answered “maybe” when asked last week whether any of the group’s euthanized animals had been adoptable. Indeed, nine of the 31 animals Hinkle and Cook are charged with killing were highly adoptable puppies and kittens. Thus, PETA’s high kill-to-adoption ratio could mean instead that the animal liberationists set unrealistic standards for the adoption of rescued cats and dogs, preferring to kill the animals than let them live in homes that are deemed ideologically incorrect.
This much is certain: The story of the killed and dumped dogs is likely to interest reporters digging behind PETA’s seemingly benign and wacky façade to explore the true ideological weirdness that lies beneath. And who knows what they will find in the darkness? Perhaps there is a reason that PETA’s alpha wolf Ingrid Newkirk called Hinkle “the Mother Theresa of animals.” Indeed, in the coming months, we may learn that PETA’s ideologues actually believe animals are better off dead than contaminated by contact with people.
–Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture. His most recent book is Consumer’s Guide to a Brave New World.