It’s hard to have sympathy for a misanthropic group like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), especially when its activist employees are caught red-handed killing and dumping 31 dogs and cats in a decidedly unethical fashion. PETA president Ingrid Newkirk conceded during a Friday press conference that “what [Adria Hinkle] did was wrong, with the bodies” and the ensuing scandal is “so shocking it’s bound to hurt our work.

We’ve begun wondering how much worse PETA’s situation could get. The answer? Plenty. WAVY-TV10 in Norfolk, Virginia reported last night that Hinkle and Andrew Cook may not even be properly trained and licensed in order to euthanize animals. “We have no records of training PETA employees,” a Virginia Department of Agriculture spokesperson told WAVY, “because we were informed that euthanasia was being done by a local veterinarian.” Cook and Hinkle have no veterinary degrees.

And now two North Carolina counties have decided to sever their relationships with PETA. Rural reporters are getting an earful from animal-control authorities who insist PETA activists said they would have every animal evaluated by a veterinarian. The Northampton County (NC) sheriff’s animal-cruelty investigator told The Virginian-Pilot on Friday: “Some animals have to be euthanized, but the way this crowd did it is sick.

Northampton County Health Director Sue Gay added: “From what we were told, those [animals] that PETA deemed in good health would be put up for adoption. ” Little did she know what we’ve been saying since last month on our PetaKillsAnimals.com website: PETA’s rate of animal adoption is so horribly low that the group put to death over 85 percent of the animals it accepted in 2003.

On June 13, just a few days before the arrests, PETA campaign coordinator Joe Hinkle (yes, the husband of accused animal-abuser Adria Hinkle), wrote to PETA’s Louisville, KY activist bulletin board: “Anytime a healthy, adoptable animal is brought to us, they are referred to a great local shelter.” Hinkle’s wife would, just days later, participate in the killing of seven puppies and what Ahoskie, NC veterinarian Dr. Patrick Proctor describes as a perfectly healthy cat and her two newborn kittens. “This cat and two kittens I gave them last week,” Proctor told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, “were in good health and were very adoptable, especially the kittens.

The pair’s next court appearance is scheduled for July 19 (click here to see the court docket after their arrest last week), and The Virginian-Pilot reports that PETA will be paying for their criminal defense. If convicted, Hinkle and Cook may be just the latest felons to have received a PETA-funded defense (the most famous, of course, being Animal Liberation Front arsonist Rodney Coronado).

In the fracas that followed last week’s arrests, PETA continues to step on its own toes. Its usual flurry of press releases include a few from yesterday that seem tailor-made for the brewing scandal. They include “PETA Demands Vigorous Prosecution Of Alleged Animal Killer” and “Hot Weather Can Be Deadly For Dogs.