Court of public opinion speaks

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Not guilty.

Those were the words repeated over and over as the verdicts were read out loud in Hertford County Criminal Superior Court roughly two weeks ago.

On trial were two PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) employees; one now a former worker. They stood charged of cruelty to animals, obtaining property by false pretense and littering.

The only charge that stuck was littering.

To say that I was disappointed in the final outcome of the trial would be an understatement.

To say I wasn’t surprised at the verdicts would be a lie.

After sitting in that courtroom every day for 10 consecutive weekdays, I had a chance to hear each and every detail of case against Adria Hinkle and Andrew “Andy” Cook. They were the two PETA employees (Hinkle no longer works for the organization) charged with euthanizing dogs and cats at the Bertie Animal Shelter and then disposing some of the corpses in a private dumpster located behind Piggly Wiggly in Ahoskie.

I learned a lot over those two weeks sitting on my duff. Perhaps the biggest thing I learned was that PETA apparently thinks that all unwanted animals are not worth saving.

While I’ve long agreed that we, as a nation, have a growing problem with unwanted pets and their sheer numbers are causing overpopulation headaches at our animal shelters, I’m opposed to immediately handing down a death sentence against these animals. No one person should be entitled to the power of being judge, jury and executioner, not unless they are a certified animal pyschcoligist.

In the near two weeks since the trial ended, I’ve received 50 or so e-mails from across the country. While a few supported PETA’s cause, the majority were from pet owners who had rescued their companion animals from shelters. Most said if they hadn’t, then their pets would have surely met a needle full of sodium pentobarbital.

Those e-mails screamed one thought n there are animals out there worth saving.

That was the exact sentiment sent out by employees of Ahoskie Animal Hospital (AAH). In the late spring of 2005, they were left to care for a mother cat and her five kittens. They managed to find homes for two of the kittens, but the remainder of the litter and the mother cat were slow to be adopted.

Testifying at the trial, several AAH employees said PETA was contacted in an effort to broaden the search for adoptive homes. Since the PETA office is located in Norfolk, perhaps the AAH workers thought a bigger market would do the trick in this case.

In court, they testified that Hinkle came to pick-up the cat/kittens on June 15, 2005. Upon seeing the animals, the workers testified that Hinkle said she would not have any trouble finding adoptive homes.

When she took the stand, Hinkle said she made no such promise and then testified to euthanizing the animals not too long after leaving AAH.

Later that day, Hinkle, aided by Cook, euthanized 21 dogs while at the Bertie Animal Shelter. Bertie Animal Control Officer Barry Anderson testified at the trial that he was under the impression that Hinkle would attempt to find adoptive homes for the dogs. Anderson said when he asked Hinkle why she was injecting the dogs, she was said to have responded that she was giving the animals a sedative for the trip back to Norfolk.

Later in the trial, Hinkle testified that she, on another date, accepted a dog belonging to Anderson to take to Norfolk where she would attempt to find it a home. Anderson testified he was having trouble housebreaking the dog and trusted Hinkle to have the animal adopted. Hinkle then testified to euthanizing the animal upon returning to Norfolk. She said she even stopped along the way and photographed the dog in a field of flowers and mailed copies to Anderson; never informing him of the animal’s fate (he found out during the testimony).

Hinkle also testified to previously disposing of dead dogs in Ahoskie.

With the exception of illegal littering, Hinkle and Cook were found not guilty of the major charges in a court of law. However, there’s a much higher court that has the final judgment – one belonging to those who closely followed and analyzed this case from outside the boundaries of the law.

According to the response I’ve received, the court of public opinion has rendered a verdict of questionable practices by PETA. Due to this organization operating by the grace of donations, perhaps they should change their protocol before being labeled People Euthanizing Tame Animals.