The Center for Consumer Freedom says PETA killed 1,965 of 2,050 animals in 2011.
Norfolk, Va. (USA TODAY) -- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals acknowledged Wednesday that it did euthanize 95% of the animals at a shelter at its headquarters last year. But it defended the practice and said accusations that "PETA kills animals" are being made by a group representing "animal exploiters who kill millions of animals every year."
A group called the Center for Consumer Freedom created a website, Petakillsanimals.com, which says PETA euthanized 1,965 of 2,050 animals in 2011. The center is supported by restaurants and food companies.
PETA, an animal rights organization based in Norfolk, Va., pitches hard-line campaigns to see that animals are not used for food, clothing, entertainment or experiments. PETA also encourages people to adopt pets from shelters, and it stormed the Westminster Dog Show last year to oppose people who own purebred dogs.
A statement on the center's website from Rick Berman, its executive director and a Washington lobbyist, says, "It appears PETA is more concerned with funding its media and advertising antics than finding suitable homes for these dogs and cats."
PETA spokeswoman Jane Dollinger said in an e-mail to USA TODAY Wednesday that the center raises the same question every year.
But the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has noticed. The killings took place at PETA's shelter in Norfolk, Va., and were not unique to last year.
According to reports PETA filed to the state, PETA has euthanized more than 27,000 animals in the past 15 years.
At one point several years ago, the state considered changing PETA's status from a shelter to a euthanasia clinic, says Elaine Lidholm, the agency's communications director.
"We have a small division that does hands-on work with animals, and most of the animals we take in are society's rejects - aggressive, on death's door, or somehow unadoptable," Dollinger said.
Lidholm says most shelters euthanize about 50% of animals but added that "PETA will basically take anything that comes through the door, and other shelters won't do that."
Virginia shelters are required to file annual reports to the state. PETA did find adoptions last year for 24 animals - five cats and 19 dogs - and transferred 34 animals to other facilities. The majority of animals PETA euthanized in 2011 were surrendered by their owners.
Lidholm says "surrendered animals" can be euthanized the same day they are brought to the shelter under state regulations, while stray animals have to be kept alive for five days so their owners can have time to locate them.
The majority of animals euthanized were cats (1,198 of a total 1,214) and dogs (713 of 778).
PETA released the 2011 figures several weeks ago, Dollinger said.
The center's goal "is to damage PETA by misrepresenting the situation and the number of unwanted and suffering animals PETA euthanizes because of injury, illness, age, aggression, and other problems, because their guardians requested it, or because no good homes exist for them," she said in the e-mail.
Lidholm says PETA complied with a Virginia code that requires animals to be euthanized under a qualified veterinarian's care.
Janice Lloyd, USA TODAY