PETA on Trial for Needlessly Killing Animals

In May and June 2005, Ahoskie, North Carolina police officers found the bodies of dozens of dogs (including some puppies) stashed in a dumpster behind a grocery store. In the course of their investigation, the police staged a stakeout and observed two people in a van with PETA written on the side dumping animals into the dumpster.

The two individuals, both PETA staffers, were arrested and indicted on 21 counts of animal cruelty, 3 counts of obtaining property under false pretenses, and 7 counts of littering.

A few days after the arrests, local authorities told Greenville, North Carolina's WNCT-TV News they had found more than 70 additional dead animals that may be connected to PETA.

They went to trial in January 2007.

If you ask PETA about the North Carolina trial, they will probably tell you that their staffers were acquitted of animal cruelty and obtaining property under false pretenses. That's true; however, they were found guilty of littering.

PETA never denied killing the animals in the back of the van, nor did they deny that some of the animals were "adoptable." They got off of the charges largely because the state statute does not specifically penalize individuals for euthanizing animals, no matter how healthy they are.

PETA's Defense

In PETA's opening statement, attorneys for the staffers made the following admissions that lethally injecting and dumping puppies and kittens were part of their ethical mission:

  • The accused staffers "acted out of love for animals" and "had no criminal intent."

  • One staffer "was assured by PETA that it was perfectly proper and legal for her to go out and administer lethal injections of sodium pentobarbital."

  • "Those animals would have been put down anyway."

  • "It was a hot day. They had a van full of animals that were deceased. There's a certain stench," but as far as the dumping goes, "they shouldn't have done it."

Police investigators testified that they found "syringes in the tackle box that were already pre-loaded with the drugs inside the syringes" in the staffers' van. Investigators also "found manuals from the organization, PETA."

The claim that the animals "would have been put down anyway" is certainly questionable. Ahoskie veterinarian Dr. Patrick Proctor told reporters that his staff gave a perfectly healthy cat and her two newborn kittens to Hinkle and Cook. "This cat and two kittens I gave them last week," he said, "were in good health and were very adoptable, especially the kittens." Dr. Proctor later added in The Virginian-Pilot: "These were just kittens we were trying to find homes for. PETA said they would do that, but these cats never made it out of the county." (emphasis added)

Moreover, witnesses from the Bertie County (NC) Animal Shelter and the Ahoskie Animal Hospital later confirmed that the defendants had collected animals earlier that day on the promise that PETA would find them adoptive homes. And a Bertie County deputy sheriff told reporters that Cook and Hinkle assured the shelter "they were picking up the dogs to take them back to Norfolk where they would find them good homes," later adding that persons identifying themselves as PETA representatives have picked up live dogs from that shelter during the last two months.

It was not only witnesses, including PETA management, who admitted under oath that PETA kills animals. The defendants admitted the same. Defendant Adria Hinkle testified:

"I informed Andy [Hinkle's co-defendant] that I wanted him to bring the animals one at a time. And I went into my van, and I prepared my van to start euthanizing animals. So I put blankets down, and, and got food out. I would feed--I would typically give dogs canned cat food as a treat before I euthanized them, because dogs typically really like canned cat food."

Co-defendant Andy Cook testified under cross-examination that he went to North Carolina to kill animals:

Cook: "I didn't know what Ms. Hinkle was planning. My intention for the day was to go down and assist with euthanasias."

PETA's defense counsel admitted in closing arguments that the PETA staffers "did kill the animals intentionally. This was not an accident." A different defense attorney closed arguing that "[a dog named Happy] was PETA's property, and she [defendant Hinkle] had the absolute legal authority to put the dog down."

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