When the Ethical Treatment of Animals Goes Wrong

by Stanley Coren PhD., DSc, FRSC as published on Psychology Today

“The volunteer staff and readership of SFTHH are Horsey People and being equine advocates automatically makes us champions for all critters who need a voice and a hand in securing a free and safe future.  So occasionally we shift our gaze to other animal issues that cross our screens…as we have today.  Once again, it is often embarrassing to be human.” ~ R.T.

Is killing 95 percent of animals entrusted to a shelter ethical?

Could it be true that in an animal shelter run by a society dedicated to the ethical treatment of animals, the percentage of animals killed is nearly 95 percent while their percentage of animals successfully adopted out is less than 1 percent?

I recently wrote an article (The Politics of Pet Dogs and Kennel Crates) which was inspired by half page newspaper advertisements being run by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). These ads advocated banning the use of kennel crates for dogs. When I could find no scientific evidence suggesting that the use of kennel crates was harmful, I turned to PETA’s website, and much to my surprise I found that they offered no evidence of harm. In addition what I found to be most distressing is that the organization seems to have an agenda oriented against the keeping of animals as pets at all.

Following the publication of that article, my mailbox was filled with numerous messages, copies of documents and URLs linking to articles and news reports, all suggesting that I had missed several much more important points about PETA’s activities.

I must admit that since I am not particularly politically active or engaged in animal “causes” other than supporting the SPCA and various humane societies, I knew little about PETA. I was aware of some of their high profile activities against animal research. I also knew about their campaign against the use of animal fur in garments, mainly because their ads featuring a nude Pamela Anderson or Kim Basinger behind a banner reading “we’d rather go naked than wear furs” is bound to catch the attention of any male (even an old one like me). I also knew about their free spay and neutering program, which I feel is a valuable public service. However, many of the documents that filled my mailbox dealt with another aspect of PETA’s activities.

PETA was founded in March 1980 by Ingrid Newkirk (currently its president) and a fellow animal rights activist, Alex Pacheco. Its headquarters are in Norfolk, Virginia and it is from the state of Virginia that many of the complaints about PETA came to me. Most of these had to do with PETA’s animal shelter which is housed there. Many messages contained documents that were obtained from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) through freedom of information requests, and much the same information can be found on the VDACS website. In Virginia all animal shelters must report the number of cats and dogs they take in each year, how many animals were reclaimed by their owners, adopted out, transferred to other agencies, died of natural causes, were euthanized (killed), and how many the shelter held alive at the end of the calendar year. My correspondents suggested that the proportion of animals being killed by PETA was extremely high and was causing public concern in Virginia.

I verified the various reports that I had received against the official records from the VDACS then did the following simple set of calculations. For the last five years I added the number of dogs and cats euthanized and divided by the total number of dogs and cats taken in (excluding those held only for sterilization surgery which were classified as “other” by the VDACS prior to 2010). This gave me the percentage of dogs and cats PETA killed in a given year. The results appear in the table below.

The official records indicate that nearly 95 percent of the animals taken in by the shelter are killed and less than 1 percent are adopted. I found this result to be quite distressing. So did the ABC television station WVEC, channel 13, in nearby Hampton Roads, Virginia. In 2011 the TV station engaged in some investigative journalism. They compared PETA’s euthanasia rates with other area animal control departments, shelters, SPCA’s and humane societies that have open admission policies for animals. All had lower euthanasia rates. The rates were:  26 percent at Portsmouth Humane Society; 40 percent at Virginia Beach Animal Control; 50% at Peninsula SPCA; 46 percent at Norfolk City Animal Control; 1 percent at Norfolk SPCA; 29 percent at Hampton Animal Control; 32 percent at Isle of Wight Animal Control; 68 percent at James City County Animal Control (Williamsburg), and 58 percent at Chesapeake City Animal Control and Pound.

Such statistics triggered a complaint to Virginia’s Agriculture Department and VDACS then commissioned Dr. Daniel Kovich to investigate and conduct an inspection of PETA’s headquarters. In his final report he noted “The facility does not contain sufficient animal enclosures to routinely house the number of animals annually reported as taken into custody.” Dr. Kovich went on to conclude that PETA’s “primary purpose is not to find permanent adoptive homes for animals.” He also determined that PETA employees kill 84 percent of the animals in their custody within 24 hours of receiving them—even though most are healthy and not showing any behavioral problems. Inquiries about how and if PETA attempts to actually find people that might want to adopt the animals that they received were not answered.

I believe that any rational person is left with the obvious question, “How can an organization that is supposedly dedicated to the ethical treatment of animals justify killing all but 5 percent of the animals entrusted to their shelter, with the vast majority of these executed within 24 hours of their admission—well before they can be assessed, or any attempts made to find adoptive homes for them?”

Perhaps the best answer comes from Ingrid Newkirk herself. In an interview with Newsday in February 1988 she said, “In the end, I think it would be lovely if we stopped this whole notion of pets altogether.”

Apparently Newkirk believes that one way to help achieve this “lovely” outcome is to destroy virtually all of the animals placed in PETA’s care before they can be adopted and become well-loved pets in any family’s home.

Stanley Coren is the author of many books including: Born to Bark, The Modern Dog, Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? The Pawprints of History, How Dogs Think, How To Speak Dog, Why We Love the Dogs We Do, What Do Dogs Know? The Intelligence of Dogs, Why Does My Dog Act That Way? Understanding Dogs for Dummies, Sleep Thieves, The Left-hander Syndrome

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9 replies »

  1. I would like to offer the observation that the writer has completely ignored a plethora of other “pets” in this analysis. At impounds I see ducks, chickens, pigs, goats, horses, ponies, rabbits, rats, guinea pigs, snakes, turtles, parrots, budgies, and lizards—and more. Most of them have NO hope of “adoption” yet their presence in many stories of shelter misdeeds goes unremarked—as in this one. This is not acceptable and I am calling Mr Coren on his blindness.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s it? As someone who has run a municipal shelter for the last 7 years, not only do we adopt out the “other” pets that you mentioned, we have adopted out many “special needs” pets, and provide long-term foster for older animals. What I have learned in over 40 years of working in animal shelters is if that you let people know animals are available for adoption, they will open their hearts and homes. PETA’s agenda and reason for euthanizing so many animals is not that they can’t find homes for the animals entering their shelter, but that people should not have pets. This comes directly from the founder and drives the fact that they euthanize animals often immediately upon intake, and are not even TRYING to find homes for animals entering their facilities. The statistics quoted in the article are for dogs and cats ONLY. How is Mr. Coren blind, when he is stating facts about a shelter that adopts out less than 1% of the dogs and cats they take in, and a veterinarian investigating the shelter states that a majority of animals euthanized are by all accounts healthy and have no behavioral problems? What is the purpose of the shelter then, except to take in and kill thousands of animals a year? Please don’t defend an organization that believes no one should have a pet, and feels the best way to “protect” animals is by killing them.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ultimately the responsibility lands on the people. There should not be abandoned pets in the first place.. Kittens and Puppies are so cute…but then they grow up and need care. Too easy to just leave them and let others take the responsibility.
    Pet stores add to the problem. I recently was in a pet store and saw a poor little parrot in a cage…just walking back and forth..looking out. That parrot should not have been alone and in a cage.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I read some time ago that Peta is yet another organization – like some of the state horse councils – that is NOT against horse slaughter. The idea that this organization “euthanizes” such a huge percent of animals for no real reason makes me sick. I agree, Louie, there absolutely should not be abandoned pets – anyone who adopts or takes in any animal needs to fully understand the responsibility they have taken on – to care for that animal for the rest of its life. For this organization to state that there should be no pets makes clear they have no concept of how much an animal – any animal – can mean to a person AND how much that person can mean to an animal!


  3. So here’s the witches brew. Organizations that are aligned against HSUS also mostly not kill shelters have been routinely in trouble for hiding animals from public viewing like the location NJ pif the Local only Humane Society in Danville Illinois. They no longer allow citizens to observe their care practices and handling of animals claiming it’s best for those animals. Locking citizens out is yet another tactic to keep animals from view. The Organizations that claim to be no kill have repeatedly killed animals. They do this by moving CV them to kill shelters without the public realizing what happened. They have attempted to ban training in order to ban ownership. I fought against their practice of stopping people from having outside dogs, I pressed the issue because if dogs are outside you can see their condition and health where hidden inside you have no idea what torment and torture they may endure. The real issue is money. Same with slaughter. Dead animals make money that’s the common thread between horse slaughter and PETA killing pets. The quicker they euthanize the more money they have in their pockets. The elimination of crate training means they will start to eliminate household dogs. The practice of creating is stop dogs from destroying their own homes while owners are busy or leave. They are also for training for peeing and weaning. The fact is…..PETA use crates they are just used to euthanize pets. The facts are horse slaughter and Peta both intend to eliminate animal ownership. Raising money they intend to keep and hoard financially. The reality is they dont want anyone with animals they want to get those animals out of th he picture then continue to collect cash. They have food products to sell so that is their goal, eliminating animals opens their product sales. Pretending to protect animals helps collect cash while reaching for their goals to sell their approved non animal products. We do not want horse slaughter and we dont want animals euthanized constantly. So ultimately the animals lose for someone to get the cash.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have often heard conflicting reports about PETA. I do not always agree with their far out responses to animal abuse. I once sent them an email years ago, asking just what they were doing to help the Premarin mares & foals. Their response was that they dropped a huge purple pill filled with urine in front of a Pfizer facility. I don’t understand why so many celebrities support them. I know that they get the word out for animal welfare, but honestly when I hear the other horrible facts that surface about them, I just can’t believe it may be true. So horribly sad
    Now I only donate to orgs. that I truly believe make a significant difference
    We know who they are, without a doubt.


  5. Very sad parallels here between the BLM and PETA, taking in animals theoretically to solve larger problems by adopting them or moving them on, or as we all understand, killing them out of sight.

    Keeping the pipeline full of captive animals nobody can see or publicize, that mysteriously disappear under their care keeps the money flowing into both.

    Does anyone wonder how human concentration camps ran for years in WWII? Not much different here, the main one being animals have no voice at all and even fewer rights. They have to rely on compassion from people who may or may not have any whatsoever.


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