This month, for the first time since 2019, I volunteered with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Community Animal Project Rescue Team for two days of North Carolina field work.
In the last decade, I have adopted four animals rescued by PETA’s Community Animal Project Rescue Team — first a dog named Itchy and horses Henry and Caroline, who Greg and I adopted together in 2013-14; then a dog named Christopher, who I adopted on my own in 2018.
Since I established the Gregory J. Reiter Memorial Fund in 2016, PETA’s Cruelty Investigations Division — which includes the Community Animal Project Rescue Team — has been the Fund’s top grantee.
The Community Animal Project currently focuses on counties in northeastern North Carolina where the poverty rate of almost 25% is double the national average, and where people commonly keep dogs and other animals confined outdoors, while struggling to meet these animals’ basic needs.
PETA has worked since 2001 to stop animal homelessness and overpopulation at its source, providing free or low-cost spay/neuter surgeries for more than 212,000 animals with a fleet of Norfolk, Virginia-based mobile clinics. At the same time, the Rescue Team has gone door to door providing dog houses and straw bedding, distributing food, filling water buckets, and cleaning dog pens — all while working to educate the animals’ human guardians about optimal care practices, and taking custody of animals when their human guardians are unable to keep them.
PETA has also worked steadily on legislative reform over the decades, successfully passing local ordinances and state laws that ban or limit dog tethering.
On the first morning of my volunteer field work, I rode in a van with two team members who were transporting dogs and cats from homes in Bertie County, North Carolina, to pre-scheduled sterilization at one of PETA’s Virginia-based mobile clinics.
As we were delivering those animals, a man walked up and asked the mobile clinic vet if he could get five cats sterilized that same day. “Yes,” the vet replied, “and we can give you a good discount too. Just be sure to get them here before noon.” Wow – talk about a can-do attitude!
We then picked up several dogs who had just come through sterilization surgeries, and transported them back to Bertie County for happy reunions with their humans.
We concluded the day by delivering supplies for dogs chained or penned in back yards. This is a county where it’s legal to chain dogs outdoors 24/7 in any weather – though PETA is working to change that!
On day two, I rode with two other team members, with the primary mission of delivering straw bedding to fill PETA-supplied dog houses, to help the dogs stay warm as winter approaches.
We also provided food for dogs who were clearly underfed, filled empty or dirty water buckets, cleaned up waste, and gave belly rubs to those who still welcome human affection.
We spent the morning within the city of Roanoke Rapids, where outdoor dogs live in relatively good conditions: although penning is still allowed, PETA was able to achieve a complete ban on tethering. The afternoon, however, we spent outside city limits, where dog tethering is still permitted. We even found one poor dog tethered next to a trailer park portable toilet.
The Rescue Team ended the day by picking up a dog and two cats who local residents reported finding as strays — transporting them to PETA’s Norfolk, Virginia temporary shelter, from where they will be transferred to partner shelters and made available for adoption.
The dog, who we named Oliver, was apparently an abandoned hunting hound. Though he arrived emaciated and in generally tenuous physical condition, a week of tender loving care from PETA and its partner shelter improved his health enough that he is now on a path toward adoption into a loving home.
For more information about PETA’s Cruelty Investigations Division, Community Animal Project and Rescue Team, see the 2020 film Breaking the Chain, executive produced by Anjelica Huston, and the November 2021 Washington Post feature A Dog’s Life.