License to kill?

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 26, 2007

WINTON – Did PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) employees in Virginia step outside the bounds of federal law by euthanizing animals in North Carolina?

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the answer is yes.

During testimony on Thursday in Hertford County Criminal Superior Court, DEA Supervisor Brian Reise testified that PETA employees Adria Hinkle and Andrew Cook were not licensed to handle, transport or administer a controlled substance in North Carolina.

Hinkle and Cook are on trial for 21 felony counts each of cruelty to animals as well as other charges following their June 15, 2005 arrests in Ahoskie. There they allegedly dumped bags of dead dogs in a dumpster at a private business after euthanizing animals they picked up earlier that same day from the Bertie County Animal Shelter.

The drug in question is Pentobarbital, a barbiturate anesthetic which causes respiratory and cardiac arrest in as little as 30 seconds after a dose is administered. It is widely used by veterinarians and animal hospitals as well as private pet owners, as long as each has DEA certification to do so.

In the local criminal case against Hinkle and Cook, Reise said he looked into PETA’s authority to administer controlled substances. Under oath he testified that PETA held a valid DEA certification in Virginia, but were not registered to handle, transport or administer a controlled substance, such as Pentobarbital, in North Carolina.

He said the PETA office in Norfolk, Va. had renewed their original 1999 DEA registration/certification in 2002 and again in 2006.

Under cross examination by Lisa Stevenson, one of Hinkle’s defense attorneys, she made reference to a portion of the DEA Regulations Book that basically read if a valid DEA certificate was held by a business, the agents of that employer do not have to personally have a DEA certificate in the normal course of their jobs.

While Reise said that was true, he directed Stevenson’s attention to a DEA policy that said the certification is non-transferable of business activity or change in location.

District 6B Attorney Valerie Mitchell Asbell was given an opportunity to re-direct the questioning of Reise.

“For an employer or an agent of that employer to administer a controlled substance in North Carolina, they must have a DEA registration in North Carolina,” she asked, to which Reise replied in the affirmative.

In similar testimony, Kenneth Wheeler, an investigator with the North Carolina Veterinary Medical Board, told Asbell that following his investigation of PETA, neither Hinkle nor Cook was licensed to practice veterinary medicine in North Carolina.

When asked what the duties are of a licensed veterinarian, Wheeler said they give vaccinations, administer drugs and perform surgery.

Stevenson, in her cross examination of Wheeler, asked if there were exceptions to the state’s Veterinary Practices Act, to which Wheeler said yes.

She asked if one of those exceptions dealt with the fact that if a person had title or ownership of an animal, weren’t they allowed to euthanize that animal by using a controlled substance. Wheeler answered yes.

In her re-direct, Asbell asked Wheeler if a pet owner was allowed to administer Pentobarbital. Wheeler answered yes, but added they must have a valid DEA certification to administer that drug.