Fact Check

Is PETA Stealing and Killing Pets?

Rumor holds that PETA workers are abducting family pets and euthanizing them.

Published Feb 1, 2015

PETA workers are stealing family pets and euthanizing them.
What's True

PETA associates have been involved in some incidents involving the alleged theft and/or euthanization of family pets.

What's False

PETA workers do not routinely lure pets away from families for the sole purpose of euthanizing the animals.


People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is an American animal rights organization often embroiled in controversy, even among animal lovers, because the group's practices and policies are viewed by many as too extreme and strident.

One such subject of controversy is the organization's view on euthanizing unwanted pets: Rumors of pets' being kidnapped and put down by PETA-affiliated individuals have circulated on the Internet for years:

Rumor circulating in the rescue world that PETA is rounding up healthy pets and killing them wholesale without trying to find homes for them. Supposedly, PETA staffers average admitted that the are doing this to healthy kittens, pups, dogs, cats, and that they will go into neighborhoods and steal animals out of yards b throwing treats to them.

This is pretty rank stuff-PETA is out there, but this is way over the line.

In at least two cases, PETA workers have been arrested in incidents involving the taking of companion animals that were not subsequently surrendered to shelters

On 28 January 2015, the Virginian Pilot published a full-page advertisement regarding one such incident which took place in October 2014. Animal rights advocate Nathan Winograd posted a scanned copy of the ad that detailed how a family's chihuahua, Maya, was taken and euthanized by PETA workers:

WARNING: PETA may be in your neighborhood rounding up animals to kill.

Today, this full page ad appeared in The Virginian Pilot (www.pilotonline.com), the newspaper of PETA's hometown. I and other animal lovers paid for it. We will not stand by and allow PETA to get away with "murder."

The Theft and Killing of Maya

On October 18, 2014, in Parksley, VA, PETA stole Maya, a happy and healthy dog, from her porch while her family was out. They killed her that very day.

According to a spokesman for Maya's family, PETA came to the trailer park where the family lives, where most of the residents are Spanish speaking with few resources. The PETA representatives befriended the residents. They got to know who lived where and who had dogs. In fact, they sat with the family on the same porch off which they later took Maya. Waiting until the family was away from the home, PETA employees backed their van up to the porch and threw biscuits to Maya, in an attempt to coax her off her property and therefore give PETA the ability to claim she was a stray dog "at large." But Maya refused to stay off the porch and ran back. Thinking that no one was around, one of the employees — who was later charged with larceny — went onto the property and took Maya.

When the family returned and found their beloved Maya missing, they searched around the neighborhood before checking the video on the surveillance camera. That is when they saw the PETA van on the film and recognized the woman who had come to their house on prior occasions to talk to them about Maya. They called PETA and asked for Maya's return. According to a family spokesperson, PETA claimed it did not have the dog. When PETA was told that its employees had been filmed taking the dog, they hung up. Shortly afterward, a PETA attorney called and informed the family that Maya was dead. PETA had killed her. She may not be the only one. On the day they stole Maya, other animals went missing as well. Had a surveillance video not been available, the killing of Maya would have remained unknown, as are the fates of the other animals. In the last 11 years, PETA has killed 29,426 animals.

The ad's claims were corroborated by a number of local news articles that reported the chihuahua's capture and death. The two PETA workers involved in incident were arrested but not prosecuted due to a lack of evidence they possessed criminal intent, according to a statement from Accomack County's commonwealth's attorney Gary Agar:

The facts appear be that PETA was asked to help when an adjacent landowner reported that they should see how his cow with her udders ripped up from abandoned and stray dogs in the trailer park area amounted to a menace not to be tolerated. He complained to PETA that the abandoned and stray dogs attacked his livestock, injured his milking cow, killed his goat and terrorized his rabbits. Abandoned and/or stray dogs and cats have appeared to have been considerable in what is known as Dreamland 2. PETA responded and the trailer park management encouraged their efforts in an attempt to gather stray/abandoned cats and dogs. Additionally the leases provided that no dogs were allowed to run free in the trailer park.

Approximately three weeks before Mr. Cerate's dog [Maya] was taken by the women associated with PETA, Mr. Cerate asked if they would put traps under his trailer to catch some of the wild cats that were in the trailer park, and traps were provided to him as requested. Additionally, parties associated with PETA provided Mr. Cerate with a dog house for two other dogs that were tethered outside of Mr. Cerate's home.

On or about October 18 a van that was operated by the ladies associated with PETA arrived the at the trailer park. The van was clearly marked PETA and in broad daylight arrived gathering up what abandoned stray dogs and cats could be gathered. Among the animals gathered was the Chihuahua of Mr. Cerate. Unfortunately the Chihuahua wore no collar, no license, no rabies tag, nothing whatsoever to indicate the dog was other than a stray or abandoned dog. It was not tethered nor was it contained. Other animals were also gathered. Individuals living in the trailer park were present and the entire episode was without confrontation. Mr. Cerate was not at home and the dog was loose, sometimes entering the shed/porch or other times outside in the trailer park before he was put in the van and carried from the park. The dogs owned by Mr. Cerate that were tethered were not taken.

Whether one favors or disfavors PETA has little to do with the decision of criminality. The issue is whether there is evidence that the two people when taking the dog believed they were taking the dog of another or whether they were taking an abandoned and/or stray animal. There have been no complaints on the other animals taken on that same day, and, like the Chihuahua, [they] had no collar or tag. From the request of the neighboring livestock owner and the endorsement by the trailer park owner/manager the decision as to the existence of criminal intent beyond a reasonable doubt must be made by the prosecutor. More clearly stated, with the evidence that is available to the Commonwealth, it is just as likely that the two women believed they were gathering abandoned and/or stray animals rather than stealing the property of another. Indeed, it is more probable under this evidence that the two women associated with PETA that day believed they were gathering animals that posed health and/or livestock threat in the trailer park and adjacent community. Without evidence supporting the requisite criminal intent, no criminal prosecution can occur.

In 2007, a PETA worker in Virginia was arrested and charged with a felony count of theft after she was found to be in possession of a sheriff's hunting dog. The charge was eventually reduced to a misdemeanor and dismissed entirely in 2008:

A judge on has dismissed a misdemeanor charge against a worker for Norfolk-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals who had been accused of stealing a hunting dog's tracking collar.

The circuit judge overseeing the case of Ondrea Harris , 26, called her a "meddlesome do-gooder" for picking up a foxhound on a Southampton County road that leads to North Carolina.

Harris and another outreach worker saw the hound on the side of the road. A motorist who witnessed the pickup called Southampton County Sheriff’s Deputy J.T. Cooke Jr., an animal control officer. The hunting dog happened to belong to Cooke.

Harris, who was driving a PETA van, and co-worker Carrie Beth Edwards were accused of stealing the dog and charged with felony theft. The charge against Edwards was later dropped, and the charge against Harris was reduced to misdemeanor petty larceny, for the alleged theft of the collar. She had removed the collar and left it on the roadside.

Harris contended that she was attempting to save a dog that she found on the edge of a road where the speed limit is 55 mph.

Assistant Southampton Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Edwards said the judge ruled prosecutors failed to prove Harris had intended to permanently deprive the collar's owner of its possession.

David Perle, a PETA spokesman, praised the decision.

"Resources would have been better spent investigating the poor condition and abandonment of hunting dogs instead of impugning the motives of a decent young woman who tried to help a dog," he said. "Our employee acted out of a humane desire to try to protect a dog from getting hurt on the highway."

Partially at issue in many of the claims regarding PETA's handling of companion animals appears to stem from their "uncompromising" stance on euthanizing shelter animals:

Euthanasia literally means "good death," and true euthanasia — delivered by an intravenous injection of sodium pentobarbital — is painless, quick, and dignified. Because of the high number of unwanted companion animals and the lack of good homes, sometimes the most humane thing that a shelter worker can do is give an animal a peaceful release from a world in which dogs and cats are often considered "surplus." The American Veterinary Medical Association and the Humane Society of the United States agree that an intravenous injection of sodium pentobarbital administered by a trained professional is the kindest, most compassionate method of euthanizing animals.

Until dog and cat overpopulation is brought under control through spaying and neutering, we must prevent the suffering of unwanted animals in the most responsible and humane way possible. Euthanasia, performed properly, is often the most compassionate option.

Many critics contend PETA's policies extend to its putting down tens of thousands of healthy, adoptable stray and homeless animals without having made sufficient (or any) effort to find homes for them:

In the last 12 years, PETA has killed 31,250 companion animals. While PETA claims the animals it takes in and kills are "unadoptable," this is a lie. It is a lie because employees have admitted it is a lie. They have described 8 week old, 10 week old, and 12 week old healthy kittens and puppies routinely and immediately put to death with no effort to find them homes. It is a lie because rescue groups, individuals, and veterinarians have come forward stating that the animals they gave PETA were healthy and adoptable and PETA insiders have admitted as much, one former intern reporting that he quit in disgust after witnessing perfectly healthy puppies and kittens in the kill room. It is a lie because PETA refuses to provide its criteria for making the determination as to whether or not an animal is "unadoptable." It is a lie because according to a state inspector, the PETA facility where the animals are impounded was designed to house animals for no more than 24 hours. It is a lie because PETA staff have described the animals they have killed as "healthy," "adorable" and "perfect." It is a lie because PETA itself admits it does not believe in "right to life for animals." And it is a lie because when asked what sort of effort PETA routinely makes to find adoptive homes for animals in its care, PETA had no comment.

While PETA's stance on euthanasia is controversial, we could find little evidence it has been extended to family pets with any frequency. PETA workers were arrested over pet theft incidents in 2007 and 2014, but the intent of the workers in those cases was not sufficiently clear to consider their actions unlawful. Aside from those two incidents, we've found no evidence supporting the claim that PETA regularly takes household pets from their homes and euthanizes them. PETA did not respond to a request for comment.


Forster, Dave.   "PETA Worker Charged with Theft of Deputy's Hunting Dog."     The Virginian-Pilot.   27 June 2007.

McNatt, Linda.   "Dog-Collar Case Against Worker at PETA Dismissed."     The Virginian-Pilot.   21 March 2008.

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.

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