This image doesn’t really have anything to do with this story, but I made it a while ago and I think it’s funny.
Here’s one I heard about a few months ago, but didn’t think about much until it popped up again today on Digg, as most things do.
As the story goes, PETA (the animal rights group) euthanized 95% of all the animals it took in during 2008. Wow. But, is it true?
While researching, I quickly found my way to a site called “PETA Kills Animals”, which seems to be the source of this claim. They have the data they used all wrapped up in a nice PDF file and a table of data showing the exact numbers, from 1998 to 2008. And yes, the data shows, without a doubt, that PETA is euthanizing huge numbers of animals. Case closed, I’ll share the site on Facebook to make myself feel good. Right?
However, someone on Digg doubted the numbers, and claimed the numbers were much lower. Another poster chimed in with links to the data directly from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. (PETA’s headquarters are in Virginia.) That site has PETA’s data from 2004-2007, so that’s the date range I’ll be sticking with for the rest of this article.
I looked at the exact numbers, and at first glance something seemed wrong. In 2007, PETA took in 8362 animals, and euthanized 1815 of them. That’s definitely not 95%; it’s 22%. Huh?
I was confused, and began to get mad at the PETA Kills Animals site. Their euthanization numbers matched the VDACS, but I couldn’t figure out where they were getting their “Received” numbers. Finally, I realized that the PKA site wasn’t counting the animals that were reclaimed by their owners, which makes sense because many animals aren’t strays, they’re just being held until their owners come back to claim them.
I crunched the numbers again (which, by this time, I had put together into a spreadsheet) and sure enough, the numbers worked out to 96% in 2007, or 92% from 2004-2007.
|PETA||Total Animals||Total minus returned||Killed %||Killed % minus returned|
Just for the hell of it, I decided to compare those numbers to the Humane Society, and to the state-wide averages.
|HS||Total||Total minus returned||Killed %||Killed % minus returned|
|State Avg||Total||Total minus returned||Killed %||Killed % minus returned|
So there you have it. PETA really does have a horrendous euthanasia record for stray & unwanted animals, at least compared to the Humane Society and to the state average. The percentages are still pretty high no matter where you go, but especially at PETA.
However, one thing I noticed that I found interesting was how much higher PETA’s “Reclaimed by Owner” percentages were compared to the other organizations. PETA’s rate is 75%, whereas the average is 13%. Does this mean that PETA is at least doing a much better job of returning animals to their owners?
Probably not. Once again perusing the PDF document on PKA, I noticed that in PETA’s documents for 2008 and 2009, they’re counting animals that are brought in for neutering as “reclaimed by owner”. In fact, nearly all reclaimed animals are those that were brought in for neutering. I kinda doubt that the Humane Society is inflating their numbers with neuterings, though I don’t actually know one way or the other.
This puts PETA in a good position, PR-wise. By these numbers, they can say that they euthanize only 24% of the animals they take in, versus the state average of 42%, which is a huge distortion of the data. And really, that’s what this article is all about: how you read data, and how it can be twisted to fit your needs.
A quick glance at PETA’s Wikipedia page will give you a much better picture of the organization’s shady goings-on, but there’s really no better example than their animal adoption rate.
Humane Societies: 42%
Virginia state average: 32%
Here’s my spreadsheet, in case anyone’s interested.
About 10 minutes after I posted this, I realized that there’s still a lot of relevant info to pass along, and a lot of unanswered questions.
First, I should point out that the PETA Kills Animals web site is run by the Center for Consumer Freedom, which is definitely not a good source of unbiased information. This is one of those situations where the name is the opposite of what it really is, like the Patriot Act. That’s one of the reasons why I wrote this post: to check the data myself, and to hopefully provide an unbiased point of view. (Or, as unbiased as I can be – I must admit that I really don’t like PETA at all.)
However, the data checks out, and comes directly from the government of Virginia. PETA really does euthanize 95% of the animals it takes in. On the other hand, I have no idea why they euthanize so many animals.
I definitely agree that it’s necessary to euthanize some animals (and people too, but that’s another matter entirely). I found a post on PETA’s blog with photos of horribly mutilated animals (I won’t link to it here because you really don’t want to see those photos) that shows how necessary it is.
But I don’t know what percentage of the animals that PETA euthanizes are mercy killings. I doubt that it’s any higher than the Humane Society or any other shelter group. It’s not like people say “hey, this dog has had half its face blown off; let’s take it to PETA”.
Another thing I don’t know is whether PETA’s shelters operate similarly to traditional shelters, or even how traditional shelters work. But if they can’t operate their shelters well, and if they can’t properly provide adoption services, maybe they should just stop doing it, and donate that money to the ASPCA.
The data is accurate, but we still don’t know exactly why the data says what it does. Hopefully, with this info out in the open, people will ask more questions, and ideally, PETA will explain exactly why its euthanasia numbers are so high. There must be a good reason, right? Or are they hypocrites?