ACCOMACK COUNTY, Va. (WAVY/AP) — A multi-million dollar civil suit will proceed against an animal-rights group whose employees allegedly kidnapped and euthanized a family’s Chihuahua on Virginia’s Eastern Shore in 2014.
Reports say a judge in Norfolk recently released an opinion that allows the case to move forward. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals had filed motions to dismiss the suit. A trial date is yet to be set.
The family of the dog euthanized by PETA last year is suing the animal rights group for up to $9 million, according to court paperwork filed in Norfolk.
PETA, a Norfolk-based non-profit, has described what happened as a tragic mistake. The organization says the suit goes too far against a charity serving the community.
Maya, a Chihuahua, was a Christmas gift for Wilber Zarate’s daughter four years ago. Surveillance video from Zarate’s home from October 2014 provides the last images the family has of her. PETA later admitted one of its former workers made a “tragic mistake” by euthanizing Maya without permission.
“We want to hold them accountable for what they do and we look forward to a trial in this case,” Zarate family attorney William Shewmake said in an interview in November.
The 11-page lawsuit alleges trespassing and emotional distress. Court documents said that on the day Maya was taken from the home in Parksley, the family bought her a pillow at the store, but came back and couldn’t find her. After Maya was killed, PETA representatives came to the Zarate home with a fruit basket, according to the lawsuit. The paperwork said once Zarate’s daughter learned the bad news, she cried for weeks and lost sleep and weight.
“They’ve lost a member of their family, as anybody who has a dearly beloved pet understands, they’re a member of your family,” Shewmake said.
PETA said residents in that area had asked for help with abandoned dogs. The state later fined PETA $500 because it failed to keep the dog alive for the amount of time required by law.
Messages left for PETA were not returned Tuesday.
PETA said earlier this year that the person responsible for Maya’s death was immediately suspended and later fired. The organization also made changes to its practices, at the request of a state agency. No charges were ever filed in the case.
(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)