NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — A family has settled a lawsuit against the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals for taking a girl’s unattended dog and euthanizing it, ending an attempt to effectively put PETA on trial for euthanizing hundreds of animals each year.
The agreement was confirmed Wednesday by PETA and the family’s attorney. The settlement dims what could have been a very public spotlight on the international animal rights organization and its controversial animal shelter in Virginia.
Wilber Zarate had sued PETA for taking his daughter’s Chihuahua from a mobile home park on the state’s Eastern Shore and putting it down before the end of a required five-day grace period.
Zarate had alleged that PETA operates under a broad policy of euthanizing animals, including healthy ones, because it “considers pet ownership to be a form of involuntary bondage.”
PETA denied the allegations and maintains the 2014 incident was a “terrible mistake.”
Two women affiliated with PETA, Victoria Carey and Jennifer Wood, traveled to Accomack, Virginia, because they said a mobile home park owner asked for help capturing wild dogs and feral cats.
The women removed an unattended and unleashed Chihuahua named Maya, which was a Christmas president to 9-year-old Cynthia Zarate.
Maya was put down later that day, a violation of a state law that requires a five-day grace period. PETA was fined $500 for the violation.
“The Zarate’s felt that the settlement reflects the grievous loss of their beloved Maya,” said the family’s attorney, William H. Shewmake. “And it allows the Zarates to bring some closure to a very painful chapter of their lives. They’re glad the case has been settled.”
A trial was scheduled for September, during which Zarate’s attorneys had planned to question current and former PETA employees about its euthanasia policy.
PETA said it will pay the family $49,000 and donate $2,000 to a local SPCA to honor Maya. The family had sought up to $7 million.
“PETA again apologizes and expresses its regrets to the Zarate family for the loss of their dog Maya,” both parties said in a joint statement. “Mr. Zarate acknowledges that this was an unfortunate mistake by PETA and the individuals involved, with no ill-will toward the Zarate family.”
PETA is mostly known for campaigns against factory farming and animal testing, often exposing unsavory practices through undercover operations. But it also runs a shelter at its headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia.
The shelter routinely dispatches veterinarians to care for local animals — but is also euthanizes ones that PETA deems too sick, aggressive or feral for adoption.
PETA has said the animals it puts down are often turned away by other shelters. And it said many pets are brought in by low-income owners who can’t afford to care for their elderly or sick animals.
The organization said it helps as many as 25,000 animals a year, spaying and neutering many for free. But the shelter’s euthanasia rate— it put down more than 1,400 of about 2,000 animals in 2016 — has drawn criticism from some in the so-called “no kill” shelter movement.
The rate fueled the family’s lawsuit, which PETA claimed was driven by “no kill” activists.
Shelters that call themselves “no kill” typically will only put down animals with incurable health problems or behaviors that pose a serious safety risk. But in some cases, they’ll place animals on waiting lists if they lack space or refer animals to other shelters.
PETA says its euthanasia rate is partly the result of accepting animals that other shelters decline.
“We’re never going to be the folks who turn animals away,” Daphna Nachminovitch, PETA’s senior vice president for cruelty investigations said. “If you saw those animals, there would be nothing controversial about it.”