New Mexico's Pet Resource SPRING 2006


We Can't Save Them All

by Ardeth Baxter

PETA kills animals.

Before the high profile case in North Carolina last year in which two PETA employees were charged with euthanizing cats and dogs and disposing of their bodies in a garbage bin as well as obtaining property under false pretenses, many people weren’t aware that PETA operated its own animal shelter and euthanized animals. In fact, during the years 2001-2003 PETA euthanized approximately 6,100 domestic animals by lethal injection at its Norfolk, Virginia shelter.

A few years ago, PETA also became involved in improving the conditions of, and finding homes for, animals in several North Carolina shelters after a police officer informed the group of the horrific conditions and cruel deaths homeless cats and dogs were forced to endure. These included confinement in plastic barrels or unheated shacks and being slowly gassed to death with carbon monoxide in windowless metal boxes or shot with a .22 revolver. PETA spent over $300,000 in this endeavor. The group bought doghouses, built a cat shelter, and provided training and veterinary care as well as humane euthanasia services for animals too sick or unsocialized to be adopted.

North Carolina officials and a veterinarian claimed they were led to believe that PETA employees would try to find homes for the healthy animals they turned over and euthanize those who were sick or injured. They reported to the media that they were shocked to discover that instead, the PETA employees were administering lethal injections in a van and dumping the bodies in a supermarket trash bin. PETA president Ingrid Newkirk then apologized, explaining that normal procedure was to humanely euthanize and cremate them at their Norfolk shelter. She noted that although PETA was able to find homes for a small number of the animals, because of poor physical condition or behavior problems, most were not adoptable.

Although the verdict isn’t in from this legal case, the fallout from the incident has been considerable. A controversial organization from its inception, PETA has been criticized by those who are not well informed about the concept of animal rights, which includes the right not to suffer and to have a humane death. Many were horrified that an advocacy group like PETA could even be involved in euthanasia, wrongly thinking that PETA had some magical power to save every animal. The truth is that PETA believes euthanasia is the kindest way to deal with animals who are unwanted and homeless.

PETA must kill animals, just like shelters all over the country must kill animals, because our society has yet to get the message that spay/neuter, not rampant breeding, must be promoted in order to prevent euthanasia of healthy dogs and cats. Some 4 million dogs and cats are euthanized every year because the public just doesn’t want to recognize and responsibly deal with the problem of too many animals and too few homes. PETA is a tremendously effective and humane organization. Local animal shelters also do what they can for the animals, with their often very limited resources, staff, and public support. The ultimate fault for all the deaths really lies not with PETA or other “kill” shelters, but with our throwaway society, which looks upon dogs and cats as commodities to be bred or killed at will.

What else can shelters do if people subsidize the prolific puppy and kitten mill industry by buying pets from pet stores, or from their next door backyard breeder neighbor, or on the Internet, or from a so-called professional breeder; or if they allow their intact pets to roam and breed?

What else can shelters do if people get tired of taking care of their pets and neglect, abuse or abandon them at shelters or on the side of the road?

The US animal overpopulation crisis has reached a point that would require every man, woman and child to adopt 45 cats and 15 dogs; that is, 60 pets for every person. Nobody can adopt that many, of course, but if you have room in your home for one or more pets, please contact your local shelter, rescue groups or “no-kill” animal sanctuary. You can find the dog or cat of your dreams and save a life at the same time. If you’re looking for a specific breed, you should be aware that 25% of all shelter dogs are purebreds. There’s also a rescue group for almost every breed. For breed rescue listings, visit or check our resource directory at for a list of New Mexico shelters and rescue groups. And please make sure your pets are spayed and neutered. Don’t be part of the problem, be part of the solution.

The other day I read about the gruesome discovery of a cardboard box full of one-day-old dead puppies abandoned outside a Santa Fe transfer station. These puppies had frozen to death without their mother on a frigid winter night. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon occurrence, but it’s completely avoidable. Isn’t spay/neuter a much more humane way to deal with too many animals than abandoning them after they’re born to die a slow, painful death, or dumping them at the local shelter to be euthanized? The goal of all animal lovers should be to promote spaying and neutering any way we can, by personal example or by working through animal rescue groups—not to waste time condemning organizations like PETA, who work hard to minimize animal suffering. I wish we would all focus on spaying and neutering animals rather than on the impossible task of trying to save them all. If we did that, having to make agonizing life and death decisions about dogs and cats might end.

Ardeth Baxter is an animal rights advocate and ethical vegan with four dogs and five cats. For more of her writing, visit: Associated Content

The animal rights position maintains that if we believe that animals have moral significance, the principle of equal consideration requires that we stop treating them as things. - Gary Francione

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