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Agency helped animals that no one else would

"Agency helped animals that no one else would"
By Daphna Nachminovitch
February 13, 2007

In 2000, a Bertie County, North Carolina, police officer begged PETA for help with the local county pound, a tiny unattended, locked area enclosed by dilapidated wire fencing that confined dozens of animals who were famished and suffering from untreated illnesses and injuries. Some of them drowned when the pound flooded, some cannibalized weaker animals, and some died from deadly contagious parvovirus, mange infestations and internal parasites. Meals when there were any consisted of stale bread. There was no protection from snow, bitter winds or blazing sun, nor were there open hours, adoption programs or veterinary care for the sick. The "warden" was also the county�s litter control officer. When the holding period was up, he shot the animals he couldn�t get his hands on and stuffed the friendly ones into a rusty box, put a cinderblock on top of it to prevent them from clawing their way out and flipped the switch that pumped gas into the box. He then raced to his car and turned up the radio to drown out the screams.

Animals at nearby pounds suffered similar fates gassed, shot with a .22 or injected with a drug that paralyzed their organs and suffocated them.

PETA could have turned away, but we didn�t.

The facts came out during the recent trial in North Carolina, where two PETA employees were cleared of all charges, except for one count of littering. It became crystal clear during testimony that no one from PETA misled anyone. On the contrary, PETA tried for years through formal proposals and meetings to get county officials and local veterinarians to do right by the animals in their charge by providing them with basic needs, a chance to be adopted, and a humane death. They ignored our appeals but used our free services; we hired cleaning staff for the shelters, paid for professional training for the Bertie animal control officer, assisted with cruelty investigations and euthanasia at the officer�s request and covered all expenses and labor through our staff and volunteers to build a cat shelter. Previously, cats picked up by the county had simply been "released" into the woods to fend for themselves and go on reproducing.

"The PETA case" shone a spotlight on the animal overpopulation crisis and its tragic consequences. It�s not just a few thousand dogs and cats who need homes; it�s 3 to 4 million animals having to be killed every year in the United States because people buy dogs and cats from pet shops and breeders and don�t sterilize their animals. In the impoverished counties where PETA works, the only low- to no-cost spay/neuter services are those that PETA offers via local veterinarians and by transporting animals to our "SNIP mobile" a spay/neuter clinic on wheels which has sterilized more than 40,000 animals since 2001.

As has been pointed out by USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) focuses neither on "consumers" nor "freedom." The group scares corporations into paying it to try to undermine their antagonists, not only PETA but Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Harvard School of Public Health, and others. CCF�s panicked reaction to the verdict is no surprise. CCF�s goal is to distract from PETA�s message, because PETA�s successful campaigns hurt the bottom line of the animal-exploiting industries that fund CCF. Neither CCF founder, Washington lobbyist Richard Berman, nor his henchman David Martosko who gleefully attended every day of the two-week "PETA trial" care one iota about animals in North Carolina or anywhere else. What they do care about is the fat paychecks that they pocket from companies that kill animals for money, not compassion, such as KFC, Armour Swift and others whose officials feel threatened by PETA�s work to expose animal suffering.

In this case, what counts is the decision made by 12 "ordinary" men and women who live and work in North Carolina, based on all the evidence. Because PETA threatens "business as usual" for the callous, the defendants in this trial two caring young people who were doing the heartbreaking work that the county should have been doing all along were put through the wringer because of what was always nothing more than a misdemeanor littering offense.

Daphna Nachminovitch is the director of PETA�s Domestic Animal and Wildlife Rescue Department in Norfolk, Va.

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