PETA’s most well-known criticism stems from its policies regarding euthanasia, which it supports. Defending the organization’s policies, Ingrid Newkirk wrote
I always wonder how anyone cannot recognize that there is a world of difference between painlessly euthanizing animals out of compassion – aged, injured, sick, and dying animals whose guardians can’t afford euthanasia, for instance – as PETA does, and causing them to suffer terror, pain, and a prolonged death while struggling to survive on the streets, at the hands of untrained and uncaring “technicians,” or animal abusers.
PETA tends to downplay the fact that they euthanize over 90% of the animals that reach their shelter every year. In 2008, for example, the kill rate was 96%. Just during the last ten years, PETA has euthanized well over 20,000 animals. In Newkirk’s statement, it sounds as though she’s defending euthanasia on the grounds that some animals are so beyond help by the time they reach a shelter that euthanasia is the only humane treatment. And she’s right in that regard – there are far too many animals who are abused and neglected to such an extent that a painless death is the only way for them to be pain-free. However, PETA, as well as most animal shelters all over the country, also euthanizes healthy animals. In an interview with Canada’s George Stroumboulopoulos last year, Newkirk was asked “Do you euthanize those pets, the adoptable ones, if you can get them?” Her answer: “If we get them, if we cannot find a home, absolutely.”
I have a personal story to share regarding PETA, their pickups, and eventualy euthanasia. For quite a few years up until 2006, our family was “adopted” by a family of feral cats. We started feeding them, and most of them became dependent on us. However, in February 2006, our house burned down and we were no longer able to take care of them. Another problem was that one of our neighbors hated the cats, and we were worried about him using his inhumane traps on them (the traps were designed to break their necks upon capture – I can’t believe such things are even legal). So we called PETA, whose Norfolk office is only a little over an hour away. PETA is associated with ending cruelty to animals, so we naturally assumed that it would be better to call them to pick up the cats than to take them to one of the local shelters, where we knew they would probably be killed. So PETA came and got them, and took them back to their offices. It was only later that I learned that they euthanized such an astounding percentage of the animals they take in. Even when I think about it today, three years later, I deeply regret that I essentially sent those cats to their deaths. All but a couple were completely healthy. They did nothing to deserve their almost certain death.
There are many within the broad animal rights movement who oppose PETA based on their euthanasia policy. One of the more outspoken opponents is The No-Kill Nation’s Nathan Winograd, who recently wrote the following:
Because engrave this in stone: As soon as Newkirk and her pro-killing cultish devotees are gone, PETA will immediately, completely, and without reservation embrace the No Kill philosophy and become one of its leading champions. When that happens, when her actions are thoroughly and completely seen by everyone for what they truly are; when she is condemned and finally, finally, thankfully, finally, we don’t have to hold our breath, clench our teeth, shake with rage, or cry at the thought of what PETA did to those poor animals, we will all be left wondering just what took us so damn long to rise up and stop this villain in our midst.
I am unconvinced that after Newkirk is no longer in charge of PETA, the organization will automatically embrace the no-kill philosophy. Too many of its members support the current policy. However, I would like to see such a day come.