DA probes into PETA procedures

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 31, 2007

WINTON – Jurors hearing the case against two PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) employees learned of the policies and protocols of this Norfolk, Va. based organization.

As the trial continued Tuesday and Wednesday in Hertford County Criminal Superior Court, Daphna Nachminovitch, the supervisor of PETA’s Community Animal Project (CAP), spent the better part of both days on the witness stand. There, she testified on behalf of CAP field worker Adria Hinkle and PETA employee/CAP volunteer Andrew Cook. Those two are on trial for several charges, including 21 felony counts each of cruelty to animals, in the wake of their June 15, 2005 arrests in Ahoskie for disposing of dead animals in a dumpster.

During yesterday’s (Wednesday) cross-examination by District 6B Attorney Valerie Mitchell Asbell, Nachminovitch said the dumping of animals did not follow PETA policy. Later on Wednesday morning under re-direct questioning by defense attorney Blair Brown, Nachminovitch said PETA issued a public apology for the dumpings.

Asbell probed deeper into PETA’s protocol, asking Nachminovitch a series of questions dealing with CAP workers returning to Norfolk from their field assignments. Nachminovitch said it was PETA policy for the workers to bring back the animals euthanized that day on location to the Norfolk office. There they were placed in a freezer and remained stored until shipment to Pet Cremation Services of Tidewater.

However, Nachminovitch did say that on the day of the arrests, the animals found by the Ahoskie Police in the van operated by Hinkle and Cook were being returned to Norfolk.

Asbell inquired of how the CAP workers on that particular day distinguished between which animals to be discarded and which ones kept for transport to Norfolk. The local DA also asked Nachminovitch about animal dumpings one week earlier in the same dumpster. While there were no records for verification, there was a question of whether Hinkle made a June 9 trip to the local area. Nachminovitch said she did not know who made that June 9 trip, but again said the person or persons responsible for discarding dead animals on that day were working outside of PETA policy.

Through her questioning, Asbell learned that PETA has spent around $30,000 over a two-year period with the cremation service. Nachminovitch said they were charged 40-to-50 cents per pound, per animal for those services.

Asbell asked how many animals were cremated over that period, to which the witness said she didn’t know. The DA then asked if Hinkle was aware of how much PETA was spending to cremate animals and if she wasn’t aware of the exact price, she knew it wasn’t a free service.

“Leaving the animals euthanized in Bertie County in the county would have saved PETA money (for cremation),” Asbell asked, to which Nachminovitch answered yes.

“Dumping those same animals in North Carolina is also a money-saving solution,” the DA inquired.

“That’s not my solution,” Nachminovitch answered.

When asked about previous testimony by Hinkle in regards to her promising workers at Ahoskie Animal Hospital that a cat and two kittens picked-up and later euthanized by the CAP workers on June 15, 2005 could be made available for adoption, Nachminovitch said it’s not PETA policy to guarantee adoption.

Turning to PETA’s belief that all animals should be liberated, Nachminovitch answered, “we protect the rights of all animals.”

She continued by saying that people should dedicate the time and the resources to care for animals they own. She said all animals should be born with a home waiting for them, not to wind-up in animal shelters now overrun with unwanted pets.

Revisiting the CAP pick-up and drop-off procedures, Asbell learned from her questioning that there was no log kept of the number of animals placed daily in the PETA freezer upon the return of employees on field assignments. Nachminovitch said there was no one at the PETA office to check-in the workers and there was nothing in place to cross match the number of dead animals placed in the freezer with the number of animals cremated.

Nachminovitch added she had no reason to believe that CAP workers on assignment were dumping dead animals into a dumpster.

Asbell also probed into PETA’s training policy for CAP workers, including photos taken during field work, brochures and other literature.

Producing a photo of Cook n taken on June 15, 2005 at the Bertie Animal Shelter n affectionately clutching a dog that would be euthanized that same day, Asbell asked if these type photographs were used by PETA during their orientation of CAP workers.

Nachminovitch became a bit emotional upon seeing the photo, but did respond that photos such as this may possibly be used in the orientation process.

During Tuesday’s round of testimony, Nachminovitch was the featured witness, taking the stand before the lunch break and remaining for the remainder of the day.

There, the PETA veteran, during several hours of questioning by Brown, informed the jury of the plight of unwanted dogs and cats in northeastern North Carolina. She praised the work of the CAP team for their efforts in Bertie, Gates, Halifax, Hertford and Northampton counties.

“We were there to improve the quality of life for the animals and to educate the citizens in animal care,” Nachminovitch said.

Earlier in her testimony, Brown projected a DVD on a screen stationed in front of the jury box. Those images were of an animal shelter in Yadkin County (NC) where dogs and cats were euthanized by the method of carbon monoxide poisoning (gas chamber).

She said it was one of PETA’s goals to bring an end to this method of killing animals.

Nachminovitch then described PETA’s efforts to improve the Bertie Animal Shelter. There, she said, the living conditions were terrible and the animals were not properly fed or watered. She also mentioned many sick and dying dogs, some with the Parvo virus, a highly contagious canine disease.

She said letters were sent as early as July 21, 2000 to Bertie officials in hopes of meeting with the county commissioners to lay out a plan of action. She said on Aug. 7 of that year, PETA official Ali Morris spoke to the commissioners during their regularly scheduled meeting.

Several other letters followed, she said, but the county did not accept any of PETA’s offers.

In the meantime, she said CAP workers were documenting the conditions at the Bertie shelter through photos and weekly reports. The jury was shown photos of dogs with mange, embedded collars and one with a missing leg.

She also testified that the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office failed to follow-up after PETA workers investigated a complaint of animal cruelty in the Powellsville area.

In 2004, Nachminovitch said PETA took its Bertie project to the next level by gaining permission to build a structure to house cats. PETA also began assisting Bertie Animal Control, by then under the direction of Barry Anderson, with trapping cases, animal cruelty investigations and providing Anderson with training.

Excluding employee salaries, Nachminovitch said PETA had invested over $239,000 in Bertie County. She said that figure currently exceeds $260,000.

Brown then addressed the euthanasia methods (by lethal injection) employed by PETA. Nachminovitch said the CAP workers in the field, including Hinkle, were certified to use this method of injecting an animal with sodium pentobarbital.

Contradicting last week’s testimony by Anderson, Nachminovitch said he was aware that dogs and cats were being euthanized at the Bertie shelter inside a PETA van used by CAP workers. She added that PETA has paid Ahoskie veterinarian Dr. Pat Proctor “at least $10,000” to euthanize 1,227 animals at the Hertford County Pound from 2001-2006. She added that PETA tried unsuccessfully to have Dr. Proctor perform the same service at the Bertie shelter.

Nachminovitch added that the CAP protocol for field visits included euthanizing the animals at the site. Those animals were then placed inside heavy duty trash bags and brought back to the PETA office in Norfolk, Va. There they were kept in a freezer until the bodies were sent to Pet Cremation Services of Tidewater.

She said that PETA adopts out a very limited number of animals.