The American Kennel Club (AKC) issued a statement this summer expressing “vehement disapproval” of the euthanasia policy at the shelter run by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in Norfolk, Va. Joined by the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association (VVMA), the AKC called for PETA to take steps to balance its adoption and euthanasia rates.
“While most shelters strive for a 90% re-homing rate, PETA is apparently proud of their 99% killing rate and callously boasts that the animals it rescues are ‘better off dead.’ That is an alarming ratio that should be fully investigated. PETA’s track record is absolutely unacceptable,” AKC Chairman Alan Kalter says in a release.
PETA does not dispute the high euthanasia rate at the shelter. However, Daphna Nachminovitch, senior vice-president of the Cruelty Investigations Department, says it should be put into context. “The numbers don’t tell the story,” Nachminovitch says. She says the shelter takes in animals turned away from other shelters—animals that are considered unadoptable by “no kill” shelters because of medical condition or temperament. She says the shelter also provides euthanasia to pet owners who can’t afford it. “It’s a service to end suffering.”
According to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), of the 1,110 cats brought to PETA’s Norfolk shelter in 2012, 94 percent were euthanized. Of the 733 dogs brought to the shelter, 82 percent were euthanized. In total, 1,675 animals were euthanized at the shelter in 2012—approximately 89 percent.
“While it is true that some animals at shelters are too physically injured or psychologically scarred to be adoptable, many of them can be successfully treated, rehabilitated and adopted,” VVMA President Mark Finkler, DVM, says. “Veterinarians throughout Virginia work with numerous shelters and rescue groups to assist in the care of these dogs and cats.”
Finkler says he was surprised at PETA’s low adoption rate. In 2012, only eight cats and 12 dogs were adopted from the Norfolk shelter. But Nachminovitch says the Norfolk shelter keeps a very low number of adoptable dogs on site. “The vast majority of adoptable animals are transferred—dozens and dozens—to Virginia Beach Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) so they can have a chance at adoption.” Others are placed in foster homes.
VDACS records say the Norfolk shelter transferred 2 percent of cats and 15 percent of dogs to the Virginia Beach Society SPCA in 2012. PETA does not agree with the “no kill” shelter standard believing it attributes to low quality of life for animals and that it does not address what the organization sees as the real problem—over population.
“I realize there are not enough homes for all unwanted dogs and cats—not all are adoptable—so we will never get out of euthanasia,” Finkler says. However, he says it’s not the job of the SPCA or other humane organizations to carry it out. “It’s a function of the municipalities, the Animal Control Department. Here in Virginia, and the trend across the United States is that more humane societies are going to ‘no kill.’ They’re letting municipalities go to the dark side.”
Nachminovitch says she understands people are upset by euthanasia, but she says the key to decreasing euthanasia is prevention—“not buying from pet shops and breeders while others are dying at shelters.” She says PETA’s three mobile clinics in the Norfolk area have provided no cost or low-cost spay and neuter services to 95,000 animals since 2001. “No one wants to have to euthanize animals,” she says. However, “We take our duties very, very seriously.”
Finkler, who served as a board member with his local SPCA, says, “The bottom line is, there is a genuine need for humane euthanasia, but that falls under the duties of the cities and counties, at least in Virginia. We got out of the ‘killing business.’ That was not our mission. That was not what we volunteered for.
“In my opinion, a major role of a modern humane society is to adopt dogs and cats, not euthanize them.”