The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, in a Dec. 31 letter to Mayor Adrian Fenty, detailed "unacceptable conditions" at the D.C. Animal Shelter on New York Avenue Northeast, operated by the Washington Humane Society for the Department of Health. Several of the allegations, PETA said, could merit criminal cruelty charges or at least employee terminations.
Citizen calls to collect unwanted animals are ignored, disease outbreaks are common, and inhumane euthanizations are performed, PETA claimed, citing records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request and "citizen complaints and observations."
"The worst thing that people can do is to be upset with the Washington Humane Society and stop taking animals to the shelter," Ingrid Newkirk, PETA president and co-founder, told The Examiner on Wednesday. "This is the time for the District to put its foot down and say, 'Give us service.' All this is is 'please do your job, do it diligently and do it humanely.' "
PETA is best known for its extreme tactics to bring attention to animal cruelty issues, but the group went about its D.C. investigation quietly and hoped to keep it out of the public eye, said Newkirk, former head of D.C.'s animal disease control division.
A "putrid smell" permeating the WHS building that houses adoptable dogs was linked to a failed drainage system, PETA claims. Large piles of feces litter cages to the point that, in some cases, there's no room for the animals to lie down. A sign asked visitors to keep a door closed "due to our HUGE fly problem."
Shelter Director Nick Gilman, PETA reported, acknowledged in meetings that he used intracardiac euthanasia — a painful direct injection to the heart — to put animals down because he couldn't find a vein. The shelter's own standard operating procedures, according to PETA, bar intracardiac injection on conscious animals and require that euthanasia occur in the most humane way possible.
Disease and virus outbreaks occur frequently, PETA found: One of the most recent, a ringworm epidemic reported in WHS meeting notes from October, resulted in dozens of cat euthanizations.
In a statement, the WHS said "most of the allegations" in the report were investigated and "proven completely without merit."
"We are saddened and disappointed that a so-called animal welfare organization would make these false and malicious allegations," the organization said.
The health department did not immediately respond to questions for this story.