- - Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Let me confess a (popular) opinion: I love dogs. My wife and I own two rescue dogs and one foster dog. As a kid, we grew up with cats. I have a soft spot in my heart for anyone who works to oppose animal abuse.

But righteousness is not the same thing as being right.

And a high-profile organization on the left is the poster child for what’s wrong in activism today.

With headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals was founded in the 1980s to focus on animal issues by demonstrating and at times performing nefarious and outrageous activities to make their statements. Unfortunately, a lot of PETA’s efforts have been misguided, ill-informed and, on certain occasions, potentially illegal.

While PETA as an organization makes it its business to attack private enterprise as evil and lacking transparency, the group has been trying to hide a few secrets itself.

Would it surprise you to learn that PETA operated a kill shelter?

Indeed, PETA killed most of the animals at its Norfolk, Virginia, shelter and headquarters in 2014, according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. That year, PETA euthanized 2,454 of its 3,369 cats, dogs and other animals — a 72.8% kill rate.

Conversely, state-run shelters have adoption rates that nearly double that of PETA’s facilities while facing more limited funding and lacking a massive donor and activist network to tap.

Many in the public turned to the organization’s donors and asked if they knew that the nearly $51 million they donated to PETA that year was going to fund animal killings.

As a result of PETA’s actions becoming public, Virginia enacted a bill in 2015 clarifying that the purpose of a private animal shelter is to find permanent adoptive homes for animals, in an effort to take away PETA’s status as a shelter if it kept up the barbaric practice.

Last year, the euthanasia rate at comparable private shelters in Virginia was 9.4% and the state’s overall rate was 17.3%. PETA’s euthanasia rate was an astonishing 74% in 2017, according to state data.

Would it surprise you to learn that PETA was under FBI investigation for domestic terrorism?

In May 2002, the FBI opened an investigation into PETA as a terrorist enterprise because it was suspected of supporting and providing legal funding to arsonists and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). ALF uses protest techniques that include arson and bombings that cause maximum economic damage to businesses.

The investigation ended three years later when the FBI decided that evidence was insufficient to warrant converting the case to a full terrorist enterprise investigation. The Justice Department’s inspector general found in 2010 that there was “little or no basis” for a full investigation.

Apart from these troubling facts, PETA’s organizational strength is misleading the press and the public.

While protest and sabotage continue to be integral parts of PETA’s tactics, the group has begun co-opting the spread of false information as a way of adapting to the digital world.

Would it surprise you to learn that the media blindly accepts PETA’s claims?

In 2008, a PETA ad campaign tried to suggest a link between cow’s milk and autism with a “Got autism?” billboard.

The animal rights group on its website cites two studies by researchers at the University of Rome as reason for the purported “link,” even though the studies do not prove any connection between milk and autism.

These tactics are not used just to mislead the public; they are used to harass and pressure private businesses.

PETA’s latest crusade is against the pet supply company PetSmart, spreading false narratives about PetSmart’s grooming services. Unfortunately, the media have been all too eager to quote PETA as a credible source without any follow-up questions.

In Nashville, Tennessee, PETA pushed a story that three PetSmart employees were arrested on felony animal cruelty charges after a raid of the store. PETA supplied reporters with an outrageous and salacious quote that claimed “injured animals were left to die in the back room, hidden from the public.” This inaccurate information was published by a local Fox affiliate without confirmation of the facts. A few days later, the outlet corrected PETA’s false claims, deleted PETA’s statement entirely and added a statement from PetSmart.

Another case that was co-opted by PETA was a situation involving the death of a dog in Florida during a grooming session at a PetSmart. PETA immediately blamed the company in a blog post shared with reporters. However, following a necropsy report performed by the University of Florida, it was revealed that the dog had a collapsed trachea and 16 adult heartworms, which, paired with the stress and excitement of a visit to the groomer, were major contributing factors to the dog’s cardiac arrest.

PETA’s tactics now appear to be catching up with it.

PetSmart is suing PETA for running a covert operation and paying an operative to engage in a yearslong pattern of unlawful conduct intended to damage PetSmart and its employees.

A recent filing from PetSmart states that “defendant PETA is a militant, activist organization headquartered in Norfolk, Virginia, using its cloak as a nonprofit organization to commit criminal wrongdoing to further its fundraising activities and fund its litigation war chest to advance its two goals: ending private ownership of animals and bestowing human rights upon animals.”

PetSmart says the operative, who was hired as an employee, unlawfully captured on video numerous hours of private conversations on PETA’s behalf and under its instruction.

PETA is just one example of how the modern left operates.

The group takes a worthy cause, protecting animals from abuse, and then uses manipulation and outrageous tactics to an extreme that goes well outside decency and fairness and may be even illegal.

This case study is instructive for the future. We will see more organizations use these tactics.

Matt Mackowiak is president of Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C.-based Potomac Strategy Group. He’s a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney reelection campaign veteran and former press secretary to two U.S. senators.

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