During Greg’s lifetime, he was an enthusiastic supporter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and particularly its Community Animal Project (CAP).
In 2013, Greg and I adopted a CAP rescue dog named Itchy. Last year, I adopted another CAP rescue named Christopher.
Since I established the Gregory J. Reiter Memorial Fund in 2016, the CAP program has been the top Greg Fund grantee.
Below, a few recollections from my experience last week accompanying the CAP team on two days of field work in northeastern North Carolina.
We pull up to a treeless lot with four rows of 20 grayish trailers. Many of the trailers are encircled by trash – old sinks and toilets, broken bottles, stacks of black plastic bags. Every second or third trailer has at least one chained or penned dog outside.
Our van is painted bright orange, with larger-than-life photos of happy dogs snuggling adoring people. “Be your dog’s best friend,” it reads. “Unchain. Uncage. Spay. Neuter. Respect! Call PETA toll-free – 1-800-566-9768.”
Today, we are here to serve Tulu, a penned mixed-breed female dog and regular CAP client, by replacing her rotting old shelter with a new custom-built PETA doghouse stamped “Food. Water. Play. Every Single Day.” We knock on the door to tell the owner we’ve arrived to start our work. The ground in Tulu’s pen is covered with poop, which we rake away. We break down and remove her rotting shelter, roll the new PETA doghouse in on a dolly, and fill it with insulating straw. We find her water bucket full of brown water—so we scrub it out. Tulu’s owner sees us at work, and comes out to help by refilling the bucket from her trailer spigot. “When I got her, she was covered in fleas,” the owner tells us. “I had to give her so many vinegar baths to get rid of them!” We remind the owner that Tulu is scheduled for PETA’s subsidized spay surgery next week, and she confirms that she will have Tulu ready.
As we work, residents of several neighboring trailers come over to ask for our help. Do we have dog food in our van? Cat food? Yes we do – all of it donated to PETA. We offer at least a few cans to everyone who asks – after checking on each of their animals. If a dog is on a heavy chain, we replace that with a lighter, longer nylon tie-out. Or if the dog’s collar is too tight, we either loosen it or replace it with a new one from the van. If the owner has little kids, we give them an animal book that has been donated to PETA.
Most of the trailer park dogs are pit bulls, and the CAP team stresses with each owner that PETA will spay or neuter them for free. Some owners flat-out decline, telling us that they breed their dogs to make money on the side. Some agree at least to think about it. Many tell us they love their dogs. CAP workers know from past experience that some owners will come around to a spay or neuter decision during a future service visit—though it may take days, weeks, or months.
We drive to our next client stop, a one-story house on a quarter-acre lot. Five dogs are tethered about ten feet apart along one side of the house, and three of them have PETA-provided dog houses. The CAP team leader goes to the door and begins talking with the human owners, learning that two of the dogs were recently left here by extended family who moved away. Will they release these dogs to PETA? Yes, they will!
The CAP team leader immediately has them sign release paperwork for “Bella” and “Lady”, as the rest of us move the dogs into empty crates that are ready in the van. We proceed with our routine of body condition checks, food, water, doghouse straw, and cleanup for the remaining three dogs, and then drive off for several more client checks before the day is done.
We return to PETA’s Norfolk headquarters after dark. “Bella” and “Lady” will spend the night at PETA’s shelter before transfering to the Norfolk SPCA Adoption Center and Veterinary Clinic in the morning. These dogs are friendly and in generally good physical condition–though one needs some urgent dental work—so they are highly adoptable.
We’ve encountered many heartbreaking situations during this day in the field – dog situations, and human situations too. But overall, it has been a successful day.
As we drive, the PETA Community Animal Project team shares that beyond the daily individual successes, are the systemic changes they have achieved over many years of service. When PETA launched its Community Animal Project, its primary clients were in southeastern Virginia, in the immediate vicinity of PETA’s Norfolk headquarters. Today, thanks to PETA’s guidance, Norfolk and neighboring jurisdictions have all enacted tethering bans or restrictions—and community mindsets have shifted along with the laws on dog confinement.
This is why today, PETA’s Community Animal Project field work is focused primarily on northeastern North Carolina. Here too, though, regulatory reform is happening for dogs–as PETA works with local jurisdictions to enact confinement bans or restrictions.