PETA concern for animals misplaced

Luther Dorr

I don’t know when or where PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) got its start, or why.

But through the years I’ve been amazed at some of the things that organization has come out with, spouting criticisms that have no basis at all.

And now PETA has fallen all over itself again in criticizing the Lake Superior Zoo staff in Duluth, saying the staff acted negligently when some animals died during the flash flood in Duluth last week.

The word is that a turkey vulture, a raven, a snowy owl, six sheep, four goats and a donkey perished in the flood. Oops, the raven’s body has not been found and it may have flown away, said the CEO of the society that oversees the zoo.

There’s no doubt it can be tough to lose an animal.

When I was a 10-year-old in a small town in southwestern Minnesota, our dog, Inky, had to be “put to sleep” because he had distemper, an oft-used term 60 years ago.

I didn’t understand that at that age and then our family lost another dog about 10 years later. Cotton, a white little rat terrier, was chasing and killing the neighbor’s chickens and when tying a dead chicken around his neck didn’t cure him, he was dispatched to doggy heaven.

Cochise, a collie, was our next dog, a dog that ferociously guarded the youngest of my six sisters, sometimes even when a family member came near (or home on leave from the Army). That dog also got distemper and had be put down. It was a tough time for my little sister.

Those were tough times, especially for the kids in our family.

But what was PETA, or its officers or spokespersons, thinking when they criticized the zoo?

“It’s difficult to imagine the terror that [the drowning] animals experienced, having no way to escape as the water engulfed them,” said Dapha Nachminovitch, PETA’s vice president of cruelty investigations.

When I hear a PETA statement like that I wonder if the people making them even think about what it would be like for a human being to experience the terror of trying to escape a rushing torrent of water.

No, I didn’t want the animals in the Lake Superior Zoo to die. But it’s absolutely ridiculous to say that the zoo should be prosecuted because of the animal deaths.

Sam Maido, CEO of the  Lake Superior Zoological Society that manages the zoo, said the blame for the animal deaths lies on a failed water culvert, and an 18-hour rainfall that nobody predicted.

“Taking the zoo and isolating on it with all that went on in the counties around here with $100 million worth of damage in the area – I  think taking it out of context is somewhat dangerous,” Maida said.

Maida was being kind. PETA was way off base, not an unusual place for that organization to find itself.

Duluth City Attorney Gunnar Johnson seemed to agree, noting that infrastructure throughout the city failed. “It’s an act of God,” he told the Duluth News Tribune.

I’m glad that Johnson had the courage to tell PETA what it needed to be told, that what happened was something no one could have foreseen.

PETA said the zoo violated a Minnesota statute about cruelty to animals, which defines cruelty as “every act, omission or neglect which causes or permits unnecessary or unjustifiable pain, suffering or death.”

If you listened to zoo employees being interviewed after the flood, you’d have heard that the loss of the animals was tragic for them. They didn’t just sit there and let it happen.

I’m not much for blogs but happened on one site at which people could comment.

Hugh Jazz of Becker, Minn., had this to say: “Once again PETA never lets a tragedy go unexploited. Could you please go away now PETA? … Why don’t you go pretend to care about something else for awhile?”

I wouldn’t go that far. I doubt if the PETA people are pretending to care. But their concern in this matter was misplaced. And that’s a recurring theme for that organization.