Friday, April 21, 2006

PETA's puzzling email of thanks; and my outraged response

The Dogs Who Found Me
Originally uploaded by kfoz.
Readers of this blog--and of my book--are sure to know a few things: I have pit bulls and love them. And PETA has a policy that all pit bulls should be put to death. This doesn't stop them from using photos of pit bulls on their website and linking the photos to their donation page, or from inviting celebrities who own pit bulls to make public service announcements on the organization's behalf. In the past, when I've questioned their position, they've told me not to worry, because they won't take my dogs. This assumption--that I am only concerned with myself and my own dogs--suggests something of how they must think of their own world. After I appeared on NPR a few weeks ago, I got a strange email of thanks from PETA president Ingrid Newkirk. Since we are in complete disagreement, I can only conclude that she didn't actually hear the interview or read the book; or perhaps she did and it just still didn't register. While trying to decipher the meaning of her note, I went to the disguised PETA website that she references (it doesn't actually reveal their true policies, though it does solicit contributions). Imagine my surprise to discover that the site uses pit bull photos to lead visitors to the contribution page! Very ethical indeed!

On 4/6/06, Sara Chenoweth wrote:

Dear Ken,
Thank you so much for writing "The Dogs Who Found Me" and for being kind to dogs. Here at PETA, we deal with the ones who have nothing, as you will see on our website,, and you will no doubt understand what that really means. I would love to send you a couple of our magazines as you might find them useful. Please forward me a mailing address if you are interested.

Kind regards,
Ingrid Newkirk
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

You can read my response in the comments section.


kfoz said...

My response:

It has taken me some time to respond to this email, because I really couldn't think of what to say. The book I've written is about rescuing pit bulls, a breed that Ingrid and PETA would like to put to death. I find this position unethical. I'm also outraged by Ingrid's willful refusal to accept the truth: these dogs are not inherently dangerous. I have researched dog attacks, and there has never been a case where a dog went wild without any warning. I'm sure it is possible; but it hasn't happened yet. Of course, there is always a neighbor who is quoted saying "It was always the nicest dog," and I suppose that is where Ingrid, or her assistant, stop reading. If she were to continue, she would see that there are always a number of obvious factors that suggest the individual dog's behavior wasn't so shocking after all--it was just that the humans involved failed to deal properly with clear behavioral symptoms.

Ingrid recently sunk to a new low when she used the tragic death of a twelve year old boy to further her own agenda. In her account of his death, she ignored all the evidence, which made it clear that the dogs were not trained, were not cared for and had been acting aggressively in response to their human neglect. The owners--whose child was killed because of their wildly irresponsible behavior--should have recognized that in creating these aggressive dogs (which they were trying to breed to make some money), they were putting their home at risk. Instead, they left the child at home alone with dogs that they knew were aggressive. They instructed him to stay in the basement while they let the animals run free in the house. Rather than criticize the owners, Ingrid blames only the animal--a bewildering position for an "ethical" person to make, particularly when she asks people to send money to promote the ethical treatment of animals. Worse, she doesn't blame the dogs involved, but their entire breed, and any dog who might look as if it is related.

Any time someone is killed--by a dog or human--it is a tragedy. But the truth is that pit bulls are not waiting for the opportunity to go on a rampage. If they were, the 300,000 pits that live in NYC would be in the papers daily with all of their crimes. There would be thousands of injuries and deaths. But there very simply are not.

Like many professional politicians, Ingrid is an expert at latching onto any invented issue that can drum up some press and, in turn, money. Their concern is not really to solve a problem, but to use it for their advantage, hopefully without having to dirty their hands with any real problem-solving.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that banning the breed will do nothing to stop these rare tragedies from occurring. Owners like these will simply move on to another breed of dog. And I suppose PETA will move on with them, urging shelters to kill rottweilers, mastiffs, German Shepherds, Golden retrievers and any other dog that might be peripherally involved in someone's death.

My two pit bulls and my rottie have saved my life more than once. Literally. I find Ingrid's opportunistic email of congratulations--which arrived shortly after my appearance on NPR--insulting and outrageous. But nothing is more offensive than this: PETA's use of photographs of pit bulls, including a pit bull puppy, to lure contributions on their website. I ask, on behalf of the breed and responsible owners, that you remove these photographs immediately--and that you remove the equally misleading word "ethical" from your organiztion's name.

Ken Foster

Anonymous said...

Ugh - I can't believe PETA is using pictures of the cutest puppies ever, pit bulls, when they support BSL and outright bull breed eradication. THANK YOU for your letter addressing their hypocrisy and deceit. PETA's attempt to portray itself as a kindly advocate of animals could not be further from the truth.

from Diane Jessup's site:

-pit bull lover

Anonymous said...

right on, Ken!
PETA is a bunch of biologically illiterate, hypocritical, publicity-whores. They are an embarrasment to anyone who thinks animals are more than just property. It's impossible to take any kind of "animal rights" position when AR is represented by the likes of Ingrid Newkirk...

Melina said...

Thank you for standing up for our dogs. I own an APBT and he is the best dog I have ever owned. My city recently proposed BSL (it was thankfully removed from the city's agenda after much protest). I have conducted a huge amount of research since and even wrote my own research paper on BSL. My conclusion is that pit bulls and rottweilers currently are the most abused animals, therefore, are perceived as the most aggressive. This is not because of the breed, but because the way certain people treat the breeds. (Certain people being those who fight, abuse, neglect, and improperly train these dogs). This relates similarly to people. Those children who are constantly neglected, abused, around drugs and violence, and in poverty may grow up to be criminals, aggressive, or violent. This is not all inclusive, however. All people can become violent, just as all dogs can become violent. Many factors play a role in the aggressiveness of both people and dogs. Just because I was born a red head does not mean that I am aggressive (as myths say about red heads). Just because my dog was born a pit bull does not mean that he is aggressive (also as believed). If cities would crack down on negligent and abusive owners as well as those who fight dogs, then we might see some peace in the dog community. Thank you again.
Contact me if you would like.

Anonymous said...

Excellent letter! PETA is downright embarassing and is doing nothing to further the cause of the "ethical" treatment of animals.

I picked your book up on a whim while on vacation, figuring anything about dogs would keep me happy and entertained. I was very pleasantly surprised to read something positive about pit bulls, especially since I had just put down "Marley and Me" and "Why We Love the Dogs We Do" after coming across negative stereotypes and one-sided commentary. Thank you for speaking out against breed-specific legislation and fear-mongering, and for standing up for our dogs!

-A Fan in Philly

buffylv said...

I have been a suporter of PETA for several years now and had never heard that they wanted to euthanize all Pit Bulls. After reading your book, which was wonderful, I sent an email to PETA requesting clarification of there stand on Pit Bulls. BElow is what came back to me:
Thank you for your inquiry regarding PETA’s position on pit bulls.
Some pit bulls are loving companions, but nice families rarely come to a shelter to adopt pit bulls. Almost without exception, those who want pit bulls are attracted to the "macho" image of the breed as a living weapon and seek to play up this image by putting the animals in heavy chains, taunting them into aggression, and leaving them outside in all weather extremes in order to "toughen" them. Therefore, pit bulls who are offered for adoption to the public have a higher risk than other breeds of suffering a horrible fate.

PETA does not believe that every pit bull should be euthanized, but we do advocate a ban on the breeding of pit bulls. Indeed, we should ban all breeding of dogs because of the tragic overpopulation crisis that causes millions of unwanted animals to be killed every year in this country. We hope that our support of such laws will stop people from bringing more pits—one of the most abused dog breeds—into the world to be hurt and exploited.

We have come to this conclusion because of the work that we do—and will continue to do—to protect, defend, and improve the lives of pit bulls who are still being victimized. Over and over again, we rescue pit bulls from people who beat and starve them, chain them to metal drums as "guard" dogs, or train them to attack people and fight other animals. We remove them from abusive homes and contact prosecutors in cruelty cases in their behalf (please visit and for a few examples of the many cases that we have taken on).

We also speak out against pit bull fighting and encourage our members and supporters to do so as well (please visit and for information about some of the cases involving pit bull fighting), as well as subsidizing spay and neuter surgeries for pit bulls ( and providing free dog houses for dogs who languish outside without any protection from the elements.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to respond to your concerns. To learn more about helping homeless companion animals, please visit
Thank You for the great book and thank you for letting me see how much others care about dogs also.
Your New Fan,

kfoz said...

They seem to have changed their position! Here's what she's been saying for the past six years:

Controlling an animal as deadly as a weapon

Ingrid Newkirk
Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Most people have no idea that at many animal shelters across the country, any pit bull that comes through the front door doesn't go out the back door alive. From California to New York, many shelters have enacted policies requiring the automatic destruction of the huge and ever-growing number of "pits" they encounter. This news shocks and outrages the compassionate dog-lover.

Here's another shocker: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the very organization that is trying to get you to denounce the killing of chickens for the table, foxes for fur or frogs for dissection, supports the shelters' pit-bull policy, albeit with reluctance. We further encourage a ban on breeding pit bulls.

The pit bull's ancestor, the Staffordshire terrier, is a human concoction, bred in my native England, I'm ashamed to say, as a weapon. These dogs were designed specifically to fight other animals and kill them, for sport. Hence the barrel chest, the thick hammer-like head, the strong jaws, the perseverance and the stamina. Pits can take down a bull weighing in at over a thousand pounds, so a human being a tenth of that weight can easily be seriously hurt or killed.

Pit bulls are perhaps the most abused dogs on the planet. These days, they are kept for protection by almost every drug dealer and pimp in every major city and beyond. You can drive into any depressed area and see them being used as cheap burglar alarms, wearing heavy logging chains around their necks (they easily break regular collars and harnesses), attached to a stake or metal drum or rundown doghouse without a floor and with holes in the roof. Bored juveniles sic them on cats, neighbors' small dogs and even children.

In the PETA office, we have a file drawer chock-full of accounts of attacks in which these ill-treated dogs with names like "Murder" and "Homicide" have torn the faces and fingers off infants and even police officers trying to serve warrants. Before I co-founded PETA, I served as the chief of animal-disease control and director of the animal shelter in the District of Columbia for many years. Over and over again, I waded into ugly situations and pulled pit bulls from people who beat and starved them, or chained them to metal drums as "guard" dogs, or trained them to attack people and other animals. It is this abuse, and the tragedy that comes from it, that motivates me.

Those who argue against a breeding ban and the shelter euthanasia policy for pit bulls are naive, as shown by the horrifying death of Nicholas Faibish, the San Francisco 12-year-old who was mauled by his family's pit bulls.

Tales like this abound. I have scars on my leg and arm from my own encounter with a pit. Many are loving and will kiss on sight, but many are unpredictable. An unpredictable Chihuahua is one thing, an unpredictable pit another.

People who genuinely care about dogs won't be affected by a ban on pit- bull breeding. They can go to the shelter and save one of the countless other breeds and lovable mutts sitting on death row. We can only stop killing pits if we stop creating new ones. Legislators, please take note.

Ingrid Newkirk is president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals ( and the author of "Making Kind Choices" (St. Martin's Griffin, 2005).

buffylv said...

It sounds like they tried to sugar coat there policy with me. I believe the ban on breeding these dogs and others should be in effect due to the overpopulation. Do you agree with that?

kfoz said...

I'm a big supporter of spay/neuter, of course. Breed bans seem a little hard to enforce unfortunately. The people who breed them in the worst way--backyards, barns, basements, etc.--will continue to create badly bred dogs. Also, for how long should breeding be banned?

On the other hand, I have a neighbor getting ready to breed two pits--and I'm trying everything I can to discourage him.

A breeding licence would be a great thing, if it could be enforced.

Rachel said...

An across-the-board breeding ban is ridiculous. I have a friend who has a Pit that we've sat for numerous times, and he is the best-behaved dog I've ever been around. I don't own one personally because my insurance carrier will not cover one in my liability insurance. Part of the Pit problem is that there are people who do have the dogs for irresponsible or criminal reasons. These dogs get the publicity and give the whole breed a bad reputation. Pits are far from being the only dogs who attack people - you don't have to look on the web for very long to figure that out. But, if society is going to take a stance on banning Pit breeding, they need to close down all the gun manufacturers since A LOT more guns kill people than Pits.

In my opinion, breeding of ALL breeds should be controlled - unwanted animals is a huge social problem that is out of control. As a member of a huge international dog forum, we fight daily to discourage backyard breeders to ensure the health and favorable behavioral traits of our breed of choice (Boxers) which are also now starting to be viewed with an unfriendly eye by insurance companies.

PETA's stance on this issue is hypocritical. Are they in the animal rescue business or a popularity contest?

Thumbs up to you, Ken, for all your hard work in the animal world. One of my canine loves is a rescue too, and I wouldn't have it any other way. He was a lot of work in the beginning, but the trade-off is one of the sweetest dogs I've ever had.

Kelly said...

Breeding Bans will lead to BREED BANS. And it will only hurt the quality of the breeds. Criminals will simply defy the new breeding laws and continue to breed substandard dogs with questionable temperaments...after all, they're criminals with no respect for the law anyway. But the GOOD breeders that actually care about their chosen breed, will be affected. Responsible breeders strive to produce healthy, intelligent, structurally sound puppies. Would the world really be better off without these puppies?

Punish the Deed, NOT the Breed!!!

Cathy N. said...

Thank you, Ken for bringing to light the truth about PETA. Nothing ethical about them when they are selective as to which animals are applicable for their "ethical" treatment and which breed should just be erradicated. More people should be informed of their hypocritical practices so they can stop funding this organization.

Jen said...

Thanks for posting this info about PETA. I had no idea they support eradicating an entire breed. That's a ridiculous position for an organization that supposedly supports animal rights. My husband joined PETA several years ago, and I'm going to encourage him to drop his support and give that money to other organizations that actually want to find good homes for abused and neglected animals.

Jen said...

After reading your post about PETA I decided I wanted to read more about their stance on pit bulls and animal euthanasia in general. What I found is really disturbing, they evidently kill thousands of animals every year. They don't rescue animals, they kill them. I'm disgusted. Thanks so much for alerting me to this, I'm certainly going to make sure everyone I know is aware of what PETA really is. Here's a web page with a good compilation of information:

Amanda said...

Wow. I am a huge animal advocate/lover and my opinion seems to be much different. I disagree with breeding bans and breed bans; however, I do think that all breeders should be required to carry a license. To obtain a license, breeders should be required to attend certification classes and pay a fee. To renew the license, they should be required to attend continuing education classes and pay a fee each year. I know that this would be difficult to enforce, but we could do our best. Also, Ken, if your neighbor is a law abiding citizen, you could simply say “Are you aware you must obtain a breeders license before doing that?” and hopefully that would deter him.

I haven’t done much research on PETA and their views of animal euthanasia, but from what I’ve read I don’t know if I agree with the majority of people who have commented here. I live in Dallas, Texas . . . our S.P.C.A. just went “no kill” and I’m concerned about it. It breaks my heart to hear how many animals are put down in shelters each year, but I’m not naive enough to believe that there is a better way. I would much rather see an animal be put down (as long as it’s done without any pain) than to live on the streets without food and water, live in a cage for the rest of it’s life or stay in an abusive or neglectful home because the S.P.C.A. didn’t have room for one more. It would be great if we had enough fosters for all of the homeless animals in the world, but as a volunteer for a rescue group, I know how hard it is to find foster parents. Working together we can save many, but I don’t think we’ll ever be able to save them all and I would like to see the ones who can’t be saved put down instead of living a life of fear.

buffylv said...

I am sickened by the above website. To think I have been supporting PETA when they have been killing the animals I had wanted to help. Even though there is a over population problem of animals the issue is taking care of the people that are letting this happen not killing the animals. Being so progressive on there view of not eating animals I would have thought they would be protective of companion animals also.

Anonymous said...


I am a urban planner who has seen the problem that dog fighting in urban cities can bring. I have driven down streets and literally seen cruel owners holding a mixed breed dog in place to see if they could aggrevate a pitbull they were considering buying into biting the other dog on the face to prove the animal had a killer instinct suitable for investing in as a fight dog. All the while a police car was parked a 1/2 block away.

I'm no fan of breed specific bans as my malamute and my siberian husky are on many dangerous dog lists. Yet they seem to do just fine playing in the PETA dog park in our city, as opposed to many of the pitbulls whose owners obviously have not invested as much time or expense into responsible pet ownership and animal training.

The sad truth is, we have a serious problem in America's urban cities with drugs and violence and horrifically, dog fighting. The 3 go hand in hand in hand. When a dog has become too wounded, too scared or too old to fight, if they are not used to "blood" new dogs, they are not taken to shelters, they are just dumped out onto the street and despite the best efforts of good hearted people like you, me, and anyone else who has rescues... they can not be rehabilitated.

Its a sad fact, that urban city shelters are overcrowded and a vast majority of the animals that are there are pitbulls who have been seized off the streets by municipal animal control experts with no idea of the animals history. It is also a sad reality that some shelters put dogs down in mass "gassings" and do not utilize more humane methods.

PeTA opposes the conditions that create the need for inhumane mass gassing of animals. That is why they are opposed to the purposeful breeding of a species that historically was bred for its violent tendencies... because the people who are attracted to this breed are larger looking at them for their earning potential as a fighting animal. Yes, there are good hearted exceptions to that statement.

Additionally, it is true that PeTA does do humane euthanasia of animals that they can "rescue" from scheduled mass gassings. Is it not better that an animal can know its final moments going to sleep in a peaceful surrounding than scrambling to breathe in a cold metal cell with many other terrified animals? Trust me, PeTA would much rather prefer that more than the 7,000 people who each year make use of its free Spay/Neuter services in Hampton Roads than deal with having to seize dogs from inhumane shelters. PeTA would also prefer that it never again had to deliver (for free) doghouses to the underpriveledged in our community who can not afford to provide an animal with shelter through the winter, but still insist on keeping any number of animals chained out back in horrible conditions...

Yes, PeTA and local animal control officers would love to see the eradication of these wretched conditions and see all dogs wind up in environments like yours... however, you are the exception and not the rule. I truly believe you should both be working together because you each want what is best for the animals, even as you butt heads over the way to get there.

Bill Speidel