PETA, or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is being sued by a Virginia family for up to $9 million after two PETA workers allegedly stole the family’s Chihuahua and euthanized her without permission, according to Time.
It is ironic in some ways that the group, which crusades against the unethical treatment of animals, has found itself embroiled in a controversy where the tables are turned against them.
Documents filed Monday morning in Norfolk holds PETA accountable for the emotional damages caused to the Zarate family by two of its workers, Victoria Carey and Jennifer Woods, who have since been fired from their jobs.
The lawsuit, which was filed by Wilber Zarate’s lawyer William Shewmake, states that the two PETA workers trespassed and stole the family’s dog, Maya, in October 2014 when Zarata and his 10-year-old daughter Cynthia had gone out to buy a pillow.
When the family came back at their Accomack County home, they could not find the dog anywhere. Understandably worried, the family looked for Maya in the neighborhood, but she could not be found. According to the family, PETA workers arrived a few days later with a fruit basket at their home and told them that Maya had been euthanized.
Zarate had brought home Maya, a Chihuahua, as a gift for his daughter on Christmas Eve four years ago. After Cynthia learned of the dog’s fate, she could not sleep for weeks and lost weight, the father said.
“She cried for weeks, became lethargic, lost sleep, refrained from eating and lost weight. Maya was irreplaceable.”
Prosecutor Shewmake said PETA needs to pay compensation for the damages it caused, both emotional and psychological, to the Zarate family. The family is also suing Carey and Woods for $350,000 each.
“They lost a member of their family, as anybody who has a dearly beloved pet understands, they’re a member of your family. We want to hold them accountable for what they do and we look forward to a trial in this case,” Shewmake told WJTV.
Carey had been working at PETA as the nonprofit group’s human resources director at the time while Woods, the group’s senior communications administrator, had volunteered to go with Carey on her own time, according to The Virginian Pilot.
A surveillance video shows Carey seizing the dog off the porch while Woods stays on the lookout on the night of October 18, after first trying to have two children in the neighborhood help lure it down. Once Maya is safely in their grasp, she is loaded in the back of the organization’s van.
According to WAVY TV, PETA had reportedly been invited to that area to help residents deal with abandoned dogs. The group contends that Maya had been accidentally taken as part of a round-up of stray animals, but the video suggests otherwise.
PETA was also fined $500 by the Commonwealth of Virginia in February this year because it failed to keep Maya alive for the length of time required by law.
PETA has not released an official statement after the lawsuit was filed by Zarate’s lawyer on Monday and has failed to comment to questions posed by media outlets.
However, the organization had apologized for what it called a “terrible mistake” by its workers earlier this year. Daphna Nachminovitch, a PETA senior vice president who currently overseas the team that was responsible for the euthanization, had said that Carey had mistakenly taken Maya for another Chihuahua.
“We were pretty devastated that this happened for obvious reasons,” Nachminovitch had said after the investigation’s results were made public, four months after Maya’s death. “It shouldn’t have happened. It was a terrible mistake.”
After the case of Maya’s death came to light, PETA had promised to make changes to its practices, at the request of a state agency. No charges were ever filed against the group back then.
[Photo via Will Keightley/Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0 License]