PETA and Euthanasia: Even among animal lovers, killing unwanted pets is a divisive issue.

Nearly a decade later, Daphna Nachminovitch still remembers the rerelease of the Disney classic “101 Dalmatians” and the tragedy that followed. First there was a spike in sales of the famous spotted breed. Then, in the months that followed, shelters took in hundreds of Dalmatians from disillusioned pet owners around the country. “As soon as the puppies outlived their cuteness and the kids didn’t want to scoop the poop anymore, the dogs were dumped in shelters,” says Nachminovitch, vice president of cruelty investigations for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). “Many of them had to be euthanized, because there was simply no place for them to go.”

But what many animal lovers don’t realize is that PETA itself may have put down some of those unwanted Dalmatians. The organization has practiced euthanasia for years. Since 1998 PETA has killed more than 17,000 animals, nearly 85 percent of all those it has rescued. Dalmatians may no longer be the breed of the day, but the problem of unwanted and abandoned pets is as urgent as ever. Shelters around the country kill 4 million animals every year; by some estimates, more than 80 percent of them are healthy. In recent years those grim statistics have split the animal rights community. Ironically, PETA has emerged as a strong proponent of euthanasia. (The group is better known for its public condemnations of everyone from fashion designer Donna Karan for her use of fur to the National Cancer Institute for its animal research.) In defense of its policy PETA has insisted that euthanasia is a necessary evil in a world full of unwanted pets. But while the group has some well-known allies, including the Humane Society of the United States, a growing number of animal rights activists claim to have found a better, more humane way.

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