Fact Check: Is PETA Responsible for the Deaths of Thousands of Animals?

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is known for raising awareness with edgy public campaigns that often draw wide attention.

On Tuesday, the organization took to Twitter to declare that insulting someone using an animal name "reinforces the myth that humans are superior to other animals & justified in violating them" in a tweet that received thousands of responses.

Whenever PETA enters the public spotlight, criticizers of the organization speak out.

Words can create a more inclusive world, or perpetuate oppression.

Calling someone an animal as an insult reinforces the myth that humans are superior to other animals & justified in violating them.

Stand up for justice by rejecting supremacist language. pic.twitter.com/HFmMWDcc5A

— PETA (@peta) January 26, 2021

The Claim

Multiple Twitter users have claimed that PETA has euthanized thousands of animals.

The official account for Uber Facts tweeted Thursday morning that "PETA euthanizes about 72% of the animals they take in."

PETA euthanizes about 72% of the animals they take in

— UberFacts (@UberFacts) January 28, 2021

A few hours later, another Twitter user wrote that "remember any time peta does anything that they have directly caused the death of 40,000 animals since 1998."

remember any time peta does anything that they have directly caused the death of 40,000 animals since 1998

— Annie☠ (@AnnieSpicie) January 28, 2021

In March 2020, one Twitter user wrote, "In 2019, PETA killed 65.2% of the animals they received. Since 1998, PETA has been directly responsible for the death of 41,539 animals."

In 2019, PETA killed 65.2% of the animals they received.

Since 1998, PETA has been directly responsible for the death of 41,539 animals.

— Mɑtt Glynne (@MattGlynne) March 26, 2020

The Facts

PETA's headquarters is in Norfolk, Virginia, where it operates an animal shelter called PETA's Community Animal Project.

There are no restrictions on the animals it takes in, even ones considered unadoptable. Free euthanization is offered.

Data collected by Virginia's state government shows that PETA's euthanasia rates for cats and dogs at the shelter is exceptionally higher than other shelters in the state.

In 2019, of 2,421 dogs and cats received at PETA's Norfolk shelter, 1,578 were euthanized, according to the most recent report from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS).

"If you have an open-door intake policy and welcome damaged animals who are abused, neglected, unloved, or who no one else will accept, of course your [euthanization] numbers will look different than those of a shelter that accepts a limited number of animals and turns animals away," PETA told Newsweek in an email Friday.

Besides dogs and cats, 36 other animals were euthanized in 2019, bringing the total to 1,614 animals euthanized out of 2,482 taken in.

Public and private animal shelters in the state, such as PETA, must submit a yearly report to the VDACS "that details the number of animals that the shelter took in during the year and what happened to them," John M. Simpson, a partner at the Duane Morris LLP law firm, wrote in a blog post on the firm's website under "Animal Law Developments."

Simpson has publicly criticized PETA's euthanization rates in past blog posts written for Duanemorris.com, where he analyzes the data collected by the VDACS.

In Simpson's most recent article, looking at the VDACS numbers of dogs and cats euthanized from 2019, he wrote, "In other words, PETA euthanized 57% of the dogs it took in and 72% of the cats."

PETAKillsAnimals.com reported, after obtaining older data from VDACS by filing public record requests under Virginia's sunshine laws, that of the 49,737 dogs and cats PETA received between 1998 and 2019, 41,539 were killed. The reports are displayed on their site.

If you have an open-door intake policy and welcome damaged animals who are abused, neglected, unloved, or who no one else will accept, of course your [euthanization] numbers will look different than those of a shelter that accepts a limited number of animals and turns animals away.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)

In 2017, PETA faced controversy when it euthanized a 9-year-old girl's pet chihuahua named Maya and agreed to pay the girl's family $49,000, according to the Associated Press.

The Washington Post reported that in 2015, PETA "euthanized more than 80 percent of the animals in its care last year, a rate so shockingly high that Virginia lawmakers passed a bill [SB 1381] in February—nearly unanimously—to define a private animal shelter as a place where the primary mission is to find permanent homes for animals in this life, not send them on to the next."

On PETA's blog in a post titled "Why We Euthanize," they write that they euthanize painlessly and out of compassion for animals aged, injured, sick and dying.

"People may throw stones at us, but we are against all needless killing: for hamburgers, fur collars, dissection, sport hunting—the works," the post states while displaying images of severely health compromised pets that had to be euthanized.

VDACS data on PETA's euthanization rates for 2020 are not out yet. Animal Custody Record Reports are due on January 31, according to the VDACS.

PETA has a 24/7 hour rescue team that is on call to help abused and suffering animals.

"While we transfer hundreds of animals to reputable shelter partners and place animals for adoption, our shelter mostly takes in aggressive, sick, elderly, injured, feral, or otherwise unadoptable animals for whom euthanasia is the most humane option, and we euthanize at the owners' request when they can't afford to pay for their sick and dying animals to be put to sleep," PETA said, citing a nationwide crisis of about 70 million homeless dogs and cats who "breed more homeless animals.

"Our rescue team is on call 24/7 to offer relief to abused and suffering animals....Just as a hospice has a high mortality rate, so does a shelter that takes in those near end-of-life, feral, aggressive, dying and discarded animals."

The spokesperson said the source of the crisis is spaying and neutering. PETA has "fixed" more than 185,000 animals since its "low-to-no-cost spay-and-neuter program" began in 2001.

"Cherry-picking animals to only allow in the most adoptable at shelters with limited admission (otherwise known as 'no-kill') policies doesn't help and often leads to people dumping animals, or neglecting them in other ways," the email said.

The organization said a new documentary, Breaking the Chain, that offers a behind-the-scenes look into PETA's work, is available on video-on-demand.

The Ruling

Mostly True.

PETA has euthanized tens of thousands of animals, according to data filed with the state of Virginia, but said that is to be expected with its open-door policy of taking in many animals no one else would accept.

PETA
PETA President Ingrid Newkirk at her 70th birthday party, hosted by Anjelica Houston, at Plant Food + Wine on June 30, 2019, in Venice, California. PETA has recently drawn backlash for pairing a photo of a dissected cat with the newly viral cake meme. JB Lacroix/Getty