A full page ad in the New York Times yesterday said "Who's Killed More Animals?" Under a picture of recently convicted Michael Vick, the score is "8." Under an image that's supposed to represent the animal rights organization PETA, the score is 14,400. Aha, so the infamous pro-animal organization is actually in the business of killing animals?
I would have turned the page quickly if it weren't for the fact that a student in my animal rights class last semester did a presentation comparing different animal rights groups and presented these allegations. I had never heard them before, expressed skepticism, and moved on. The group behind the allegations evidently has a lot of money and really wants to slime the folks at PETA, so yesterday I decided to look into the matter.
I should say, to begin with, that I'm basically in sympathy with the PETA people. I've met the president of the organization, Ingrid Newkirk, and she struck me as extremely decent, compassionate, and reasonable. My own perspective on animal issues is not absolutist and uncompromising, like PETA's is, but their clear, simple message is valuable. I also think they're masters at attracting attention--and Newkirk was completely forthright about that goal. Once people are looking (at naked celebrities, shocking images, or whatever) you can tell them something important. The Humane Society is more my style, but the PETA people are good guys, in my opinion.
So what about all the animal-killing that's allegedly going on at PETA? Apparently the organization doesn't want to help the "PETA kills animals" campaign gain publicity, so they don't respond on their website. But I sent them an e-mail and they sent back a thorough response. You can read it here. Bottom line--people turn to PETA as a last resort with animals that are not adoptible. PETA does euthanize animals.
I don't feel scandalized by this fact. "No kill" animal shelters have a happy image but they aren't really responsible for less killing than the rest. The "no kill" shelters take animals only by reservation. The animals they turn away wind up...of course...at the other animal shelters that do euthanize.
One of the most passionately pro-animal students who ever took my animal rights class worked at the SPCA and actually helped euthanize animals. This was painful for her, but there simply isn't enough room at animal shelters to house all the unwanted cats and dogs.
The people we should feel angry at are not the ones doing the euthanizing. It's folks who don't spay and neuter their pets. And even worse, people who adopt a cat or dog and then for the most trivial reasons decide to return it. An article in the New York Times magazine last year said that some people will actually take a dog to a shelter because he no longer seems like the right accessory. You know, last year I was an Irish Setter person, but now one of those miniature dogs would fit my image so much better.
It's people like this that scare me.