A woman employed by PETA fifteen years ago is now alleging that she was encouraged by its president, Ingrid Newkirk, to steal and kill pets, and to falsify records.
Heather Harper-Troje is the wife of a US diplomat serving at the American embassy in Honduras, and her eyewitness account is unprecedented. For three years I have investigated People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' regular slaughter of dogs and cats at their headquarters in Norfolk, but I have never encountered first-person testimony of this nature. According to Harper-Troje, Ingrid Newkirk authorized her staff to steal pets -- animals that were then killed, immediately -- and records of killing were routinely doctored. Ms. Harper-Troje is an exceptionally brave woman -- she is willing to go on the record and use her real name. She will be eviscerated.
Some of this is told in a blog post, which I quote here at length but urge you to read in its entirety: "Rescued by Black Boy: how a neglected dog set me back on my path, away from PETA." The extent to which PETA has stolen animals and falsified documents, however, is not revealed there. My own conversations with Ms. Harper-Troje have gone into considerably more detail.
Note that the following is the testimony of one woman, and must be considered merely allegation until substantiated. Heather Harper-Troje is hardly a disreputable citizen, however: She's married to a Foreign Service Officer -- the chief of the public diplomacy section at the American embassy in Honduras -- and she has told me that she would be willing to testify to the following in court, under oath. I contacted PETA earlier today to request a comment, and have not yet heard back. I will provide updates here should they respond.
These are allegations of crimes committed fifteen years ago, and the statute of limitations has long expired. The claims have become urgently relevant, however, as PETA is increasingly embroiled in a scandal involving the theft and killing of a little girl's dog.
As always with PETA, the story begins with good intentions, and good deeds. Ms. Harper-Troje mostly believed in what she was doing as a field worker; she spent a lot of time in poor neighborhoods, "getting to know people, educating them on the benefits of spaying and neutering, vaccinating, proper nutrition, and the importance of socialization for dogs."
And she was not considered an inferior employee, by any means: "My first performance review earned me a raise and accolades from Ingrid Newkirk, the president of PETA and my direct supervisor." But she had what is apparently considered by PETA to be a serious moral flaw: She wanted to keep rescued animals alive.
In the beginning, I wanted to adopt out the majority of animals I brought in, and sometimes I neglected to report when I picked up an animal -- in doing so, I could bring them to a local shelter, because the alternative was euthanasia at PETA.
But surely PETA tries to find a home for an animal that's clearly adoptable? You'd gather this from their website; on a page entitled "PETA Saves," they explain that "PETA performs the heartbreaking task of euthanizing animals who are unwanted for one reason or another: because they are aggressive, sick, hurt, elderly, or at death's door and because no good homes exist for them."
Contrast this with what Ms. Harper-Troje alleges she witnessed:
I remember one day bringing a tiny white dog into Ingrid's office, to tell her I wanted to adopt her out, not euthanize her. She rolled her eyes and asked why that dog was any more worthy than any of the countless other animals in shelters waiting for a home. I told her she was an adoptable dog: small, social, sweet; could be placed with very little trouble. After sarcastically berating me, with a smile on her face, she turned to a man in her office and asked what he thought. He said she was very cute. She sighed and said something along the lines of, "fine, do what you want." So I found her a home.
Consider the allegation here. We are told that the urge to find a home for an adorable, healthy dog met this response from Ingrid Newkirk: The famous animal lover "rolled her eyes" and berated her employee as sentimental.
I had to fight hard for each adoption and, increasingly, I encountered great resistance. I heard phrases like "a waste of resources" and "not adoptable" -- my desire to save each animal was belittled as naive and trivial. I was told that I was missing the bigger picture.
That's unquestionably a large, ugly picture. If you worked for PETA, you were expected to kill adoptable animals. And, as I reported in a long series of articles, everything suggests that the picture painted fifteen years ago is an accurate portrait of PETA today.
PETA likes to call their headquarters a "shelter of last resort." Ms. Harper-Troje's description warrants that bleak term:
What was referred to as the "shelter" was a large, empty storage closet across from our office. The only other holding facility we had was in the warehouse, where the animals were euthanized. And when I did use the room across from my office as a holding area for animals, Ingrid would ask why I hadn't already euthanized them: one time nailing me to the wall because the litter of puppies I'd placed in there for a night had pooped everywhere; I was told to euthanize the puppies immediately. Needless to say, Ingrid refused our request for a shelter: waste of resources, not the aim of the program, animals beyond hope, same old, same old.
Are we meant to imagine that this entire litter of puppies was "aggressive, sick, hurt... or at death's door"?
Perhaps we believe that these puppies were brought in by an owner desperate to have them killed. This is what Mary Tully would like us to believe regarding today's kind and gentle organization. Ms. Tully, who insists that she does not work for PETA, has an entire site devoted to explaining and excusing PETA's mass killing. And she wrote this comment last week: "PETA's Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services animal reporting data and shelter inspection reports confirm that nearly every animal PETA receives for euthanasia is received from his or her guardian for this service."
The reports say no such thing; you are welcome to read them for yourself. Here's the kill report submitted by PETA to the government in 2013, for instance.
According to Ms. Harper-Troje, when she worked at PETA, people certainly weren't handing over their beloved pets to be euthanized: "I never had an owner tell me they wanted their animal killed." What about the woman who surrendered the white dog that Ingrid was so keen on not re-homing? No, that owner "wanted her adopted out, and she was an extremely adoptable dog." What about those puppies Ms. Harper-Troje tried to save? "They were surrendered by their owner -- I picked them up. We were supposed to find them homes, but they were all euthanized."
PETA's yearly kill rates have always been approximately the same -- generally over ninety percent of the animals taken in by PETA are killed. So are we meant to believe that this part has changed? That only now are owners explicitly requesting that their pets be euthanized? "If anyone ever came to me for euth service it was so rare that I don't remember one instance of it happening."
Here we are debating over the status of animals willingly surrendered. The basic facts have long been known. What Ingrid Newkirk has never come close to admitting, however, is that among the animals killed by PETA are stolen pets.
"If we felt an animal was in immediate danger we would steal them."
Did any of these stolen animals get re-homed? "To my recollection, no. If you adopt out dogs you steal then you leave a trail, in theory. If they just go poof there is no trail."
And Ingrid Newkirk herself approved of this? "It was what she told us to do -- it was standard operating procedure."
I asked Ms. Harper-Troje whether she could give me any idea of the number of animals stolen.
I really can't. Not with any accuracy -- it's been so long. They were the minority, by far, but it was an acceptable practice. My criteria is if I really felt that an animal was in a life-or-death situation, like Black Boy, then I would steal them. In eight months I think it would be fair to say I could count the number of animals I stole on one hand....
I was less inclined to steal; I wanted to work with people, educate, etc.
But she's sure that others were also stealing? "That I am 100% positive of. Absolutely."
Theft was clearly less common than another crime that Ms. Harper-Troje says Ingrid Newkirk encouraged them to commit: the falsification of records. "Doctoring logs was routine."
Routine meaning weekly? Monthly?
As far as I remember it was daily. Because each time you euth an animal you enter it in the log -- if you say the animal is ten pounds heavier than he is, you've given yourself room to euthanize another ten-pound animal off the books.
For those of us who care about animal rescue, this crime is considerably more horrifying than well-meaning theft. Both are of course illegal, but here we have a self-described "animal rights activist" allegedly telling her employees to doctor official records, so that her organization can kill even more animals than they report. If this is true, Ingrid Newkirk was encouraging them to break the law not in order to save, but to slaughter.
Heather Harper-Troje wrote about her PETA experiences last year, but this part is new. In the earlier account, she revealed only what she determined was "common knowledge."
This is the first time I've come out and said how Ingrid ran the unit, and encouraged us to break the law, lie, etc. Pheno B, as you know, is a controlled substance, and we used ketamine to sedate when needed. I was under direct orders from her to doctor logs, in order to compensate for what would have otherwise been missing pheno and ketamine.
She details this in her blog post:
I know from first hand experience that the PETA leadership has no problem lying. I was told regularly to not enter animals into the log, or to euthanize off-site in order to prevent animals from even entering the building. I was told regularly to greatly overestimate the weight of animals whose euthanasia we recorded, in order to account for what would have otherwise been missing "blue juice" (the chemical used to euthanize); because that allowed us to euthanize animals off the books. I was told regularly to say whatever I had to say in order to get people to surrender animals to me: lying was not only acceptable, it was encouraged.
Ironically, the circumstance of Heather Harper-Troje's firing did not involve the controversial practices of killing, theft, and falsifying documents. It involved the much less controversial practice of neutering dogs. PETA, along with most animal welfare organizations, has long purported to endorse this strategy wholeheartedly.
One day I took part in a meeting about the "allocation of resources" for our program. Ingrid announced that, in order to cut costs, we would no longer be paying to have male pit bulls neutered -- we would only pay to have females spayed. She asked for feedback, which I knew she did not really want, but I spoke up anyway. I told her that neutering was a necessity: without it the male dogs would be vulnerable to being used as fighting dogs. She maintained we didn't have the funds for it.
PETA's annual budget, of course, is never less than jaw-dropping. Their total revenues in 2014 -- mostly donations -- amounted to $51,933,001.
I took a deep breath, and told Ingrid that if we discontinued the neutering program in the particular area where my focus was, then we would be as guilty of perpetuating the cruelty of dog fighting as those who were fighting the dogs, and that the suffering and death of each dog lost to a fight would be on our hands.
Honesty of this sort is apparently not appreciated by the ethical founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals:
A few weeks later I was given a letter of dismissal from the woman who had started out as my assistant but had since become my supervisor. (Her promotion happened around the time I'd stopped being such a good little soldier.) Not cut out for a job in animal rescue, best of luck, effective immediately.
So. If you insist upon finding homes for animals, and endorse a policy that would fund the neutering (as opposed to killing) of dogs, you are -- by PETA's definition -- unfit for a job in "animal rescue."
As I say, Heather Harper-Troje is a truly courageous woman. She will be vilified for refusing, finally, to remain silent about PETA's grotesque "shelter of last resort." The ubiquitous posse of shills and trolls is guaranteed to insult her, to insult her family, to question her ethics and her sanity -- we've seen it happen again and again. (I've become accustomed to it, but not everyone finds it easy to simply shrug off defamation.)
I'm certain we'll be told that Heather Harper-Troje was fired for incompetence. This is the libel generally cooked up to discredit a whistleblower: Oh, we're simply dealing with a disgruntled employee.
Here I think we can safely believe Ms. Harper-Troje, however, as it accords with everything we know about this depraved organization: "I was good at my job. What I was no longer good at was following orders that I knew were immoral."