A MONTH-LONG investigation into animal cruelty has resulted in two people being arrested, both of who police have linked with the extreme animal rights organisation PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).
Last week, Andrew Benjamin Cook, 24 of Virginia Beach, Virginia, and Adria Joy Hinkle, 27, of Norfolk, Virginia were each charged with 31 felony counts of animal cruelty and eight misdemeanour counts each of the illegal disposal of dead animals.
Both were remanded in custody to the Hertford County jail, then released on bail, each under a $35,500 secured bond.
Ahoskie Police Chief Troy Fitzhugh said Cook and Hinkle posted bond prior to incarceration.
"We've been investigating animal cruelty and illegal disposal of dead animals within our city for the last four weeks," Fitzhugh said. "Our investigators determined that these incidents were occurring every Wednesday for approximately one month."
Last Wednesday week, law enforcement officials with the Ahoskie Police and Bertie County Sheriff's Office were able to observe a white panel van drive next to the commercial dumpster located behind a Piggly Wiggly outlet in the Newmarket Shopping Centre. A person in the van threw several dark-coloured bags in the dumpster before the van attempted to pull away.
Police vehicles then stopped the van that was occupied by Cook and Hinkle and the couple were detained whilst the immediate area and the van were searched.
The bags located in the dumpster contained 18 dead dogs, including one bag containing seven puppies. An additional 13 dead dogs were found in the van.
A license check revealed the van was registered to PETA in Norfolk, Virginia.
It has not yet been confirmed if Cook and Hinkle are official representatives of the animal rights group, although the link has been confirmed unofficially on several animal group websites, many of whom actively oppose PETA and its aims.
However, Detective Sgt. Ed Pittman of the Bertie Sheriff's Office confirmed, through the county's Animal Control Officer, that Cook and Hinkle had indeed identified themselves as PETA representatives from Norfolk, Virginia.
"According to Barry (Anderson, Bertie's Animal Officer), the man and woman told him they were picking up the dogs to take them back to Norfolk where they would find them good homes," Pittman said.
Pittman added that as far as he knew, persons identifying themselves as PETA representatives had picked-up live dogs at the Bertie Animal Shelter for at least the last two months.
Anderson, also involved in Wednesday's surveillance and subsequent arrest, was able to positively identify nearly all of the dogs found in the dumpster as the ones picked-up just a few hours earlier on Wednesday by Cook and Hinkle.
"Barry documents the animals as they are received at the animal shelter," Pittman noted.
Two of the 31 dogs were kept for an autopsy. The remainder were buried on civic land set aside for animal disposal.
Needless to say, the story provoked a great deal of news coverage in the US, so PETA called a press conference last Friday to address some – although not all – of the issues.
Daphna Nachminovitch, who oversees PETA’s Domestic Animal and Wildlife Department, including their Community Animal Project spay clinic, SNIP explained that PETA began operating in North Carolina five years ago, after they were contacted by a police officer who was distressed by conditions in the county pound.
"PETA then visited the Bertie County Animal Shelter to see things firsthand," said Nachminovitch. "We found sick, injured animals in need of veterinary care, a leaky windowless gas box in which animals were placed to be killed, and facility that had no electricity and no covering for its cages.
PETA immediately offered aid to Bertie County and to the City of Windsor, which operates its own facility within the county limits. There, animals were restrained on a metal pole and shot with a .22. Shortly after this, we found out that Hertford County’s homeless animals were also gassed.
We made arrangements to pay a local veterinarian to euthanise those animals by painless injection. PETA to this date subsidizes humane euthanasia at the Hertford facility, and has so far paid nearly $9,000 for this service."
PETA’s president, Ingrid Newkirk gave a bullish presentation, justifying PETA’s euthanasia policy for unwanted pets. "The fact is that we cannot stop euthanasia until people stop letting dogs and cats bring new litters into the world. For every litter born, it is estimated that over 1,000 more animals will end up being destroyed as those litters grow up and start having litters themselves within six months," said Newkirk.
"Someone asked could we not bring the animals from NC to Virginia to be placed? Well, Virginia already faces its own problem of large numbers of animals who can't find homes. We have actively lobbied for increased license fees for unsterilised animals, we were instrumental in getting Norfolk to pass a regulation requiring the animal shelter to pre-sterilize animals before adoption, and we run a spay clinic seven days a week to try to help. Citizens who are up in arms about the need for euthanasia should join us in being up in arms about stopping the flow of unwanted animals.
"Could we not run a refuge for them ourselves? Well, we could warehouse them and fill this building in a month, easily. There isn't the space, the money or the staff to do that properly for even one month's worth of unwanted animals, and what would we do the month after that and the month after that?
"There is no magic wand that will stop euthanasia, but each of us who has been upset by realizing that it happens, can look into our soul and honestly ask ourselves: ‘What am I doing to stop the overpopulation crisis for dogs and cats? To stop the killing.’"
Newkirk went on to explain that PETA euthanises animals humanely, using a barbiturate, sodium pentobarbital, to deliver one injection into the dog or cat's leg. "Unconsciousness occurs in a matter of two or three seconds and occurs without trauma, without pain, and without the animal knowing," she added.
Newkirk tried to pass off the dumping of the animals’ bodies as an aberration, saying: "Now we hope that the counties of North Carolina will still not only welcome our services - for it would be a terrible step back if all that is focused on is the matter of the bodies put in the dumpsters. That conduct disgusts us, violates PETA protocol, happened without our knowledge and can never be allowed to happen again, but our work must go on."
In May 2005 the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) unveiled a giant Times Square billboard and a new website denouncing PETA’s activities. CCF had obtained official records from the state of Virginia showing the militant animal-rights group had put over 10,000 dogs and cats to death since 1998.
In 2003 PETA euthanised over 85 percent of the animals it took in, finding adoptive homes for just 14 percent. By comparison, the Norfolk SPCA found adoptive homes for 73 percent of its animals and the Virginia Beach SPCA adopted out 66 percent. PETA's required report documenting its 2004 record is currently over 4 weeks late according to CCF.
"This is disturbing behaviour on the part of self-professed animal lovers, and I hope the public takes notice," said Center for Consumer Freedom Director of Research David Martosko. "PETA raked in nearly $29 million last year alone, but apparently it couldn't spare any money to care for the flesh-and-blood animals entrusted to its employees. It's ironic -- If anyone else were caught red-handed with 31 dead dogs, PETA would be holding a press conference to denounce them."
Daphna Nachminovitch spoke to OUR DOGS earlier this week and confirmed that Cook and Hinkle were both PETA employees.
Asked about the ‘cruelty element of the charges filed against the couple, Nachminovitch said: "We are confident that there was no cruelty here and that the courts will see that. Before PETA was invited to do this difficult work in North Carolina, animals in the pounds were being killed in hideous ways—either shot or gassed in a rusty, windowless metal box or injected with a paralytic. All the animals we offered to euthanize were slated for death, even the ones we did place in homes. There was no cruelty."
However, she added that dumping the animals’ bodies in a dumpster was not acceptable.
"We condemn the way the bodies were disposed of, and the employee responsible for it has been suspended. PETA has procedures that were not followed with respect to disposal of the bodies, and we are quite devastated by the harm this has done to our work. We’ve apologized publicly and formally to all county officials involved, and even attended the Bertie County Commissioners meeting to ask officials for forgiveness for this incident and consideration of the good work and outstanding relationships we have built over the years.
"At this time our main concern obviously is what will happen to the animals we are not permitted to help. Performing euthanasia is—as I am sure you can imagine—a terrible heartbreak for our staff, but knowing that these animals who sit as we speak in these rural pounds without so much as hope for a kind word, a gentle touch, and a peaceful exit."
Nachminovitch concluded: "You should know that we found out just now that Northampton County will resume gassing animals in the dark, dank cinderblock box that’s attached to the shelter. I am now working furiously to put a stop that."
Investigations into the matter are ongoing and are likely to continue to attract worldwide interest.