Doggone it! Virginia family seeks $7mn from PETA, says it ‘stole & killed their pet’

© Jorge Dan Lopez
A Virginia family is suing an American animal rights group for $7 million in damages after its employees took away and euthanized a little girl’s dog. The family says the dog was intentionally stolen.

Maya the Chihuahua was a Christmas gift from Wilber Zarate Llaven to his daughter Cynthia in 2011, the 11-page lawsuit reads

The dog disappeared last October, when the Zarates say two employees of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) lured Maya away from the family mobile home and “loaded [her] in the back” of their van.

PETA was invited to the mobile park by its owner to purportedly try to capture dogs that had been left behind by former residents, the lawsuit says. The Zarate family claims that PETA representatives were acquainted with their family and knew that the dog belonged to the little girl.

“The security video captured the outrageous actions of the defendants [PETA],” the family's attorney, William Shewmake, wrote in the lawsuit. “The video revealed that PETA had first tried to have two children in the neighborhood lure Maya off her porch.” After the children did not succeed, a PETA worker went to the porch himself and seized the dog, the footage referred to in the lawsuit allegedly shows.

After noticing their dog had gone missing and failing to find Maya, the family came to PETA’s shelter in Norfolk to look for their pet next morning. By the time they arrived, Maya had already been euthanized.

The Zarates’ defense now insists that PETA violated Virginia law, which requires a shelter to wait for at least five days before euthanizing an animal.

“Had PETA waited the five days before killing Maya, Wilber and his family would have been able to recover Maya alive,” Shewmake wrote.

In February, PETA was fined $500 by the Commonwealth of Virginia for killing Maya too quickly in violation of Virginia law. At the time, the group admitted that Maya had accidentally been taken as part of a round-up of stray and unwanted animals in the area, calling the killing "extremely upsetting" and a "tragic mistake."

PETA reportedly fired the person responsible for Maya’s death.

The family is now seeking over $7 million compensation for trespassing and the emotional distress of little Cynthia, who, according to reports, “cried for weeks, became lethargic, lost sleep, refrained from eating and lost weight.”

The Zarates are demanding an additional payment of $350,000 each from Victoria Carey and Jennifer Woods, “agents and representatives of PETA.”

PETA's Norfolk shelter has a notorious reputation due to the high number of animals killed there. According to Virginia’s Online Animal Reporting, in 2014 alone the PETA shelter took 1,606 cats and euthanized 1,536 of them. Of the 1,025 dogs taken in, they euthanized 788.