NASHVILLE - The animal rights group PETA wants Gov. Phil Bredesen to put a leash on the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, charging some employees are giving callers "cruel" advice for killing "pest animals" like raccoons that are caught alive.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals asks Bredesen in a letter to act and "ensure that TWRA will take immediate corrective action and properly educate and train its staff regarding acceptable wildlife euthanasia methods."
The group said Tennesseans seeking advice on how to dispose of trapped raccoons and skunks "are being instructed to kill the animals by drowning, gassing via tailpipe, and abandonment (leaving animals inside the traps without sustenance)."
Those methods cause "unnecessary pain and suffering and would therefore violate Tennessee's anti-cruelty statute," says PETA's letter, sent Tuesday.
Bredesen press secretary Lydia Lenker said, "We received the letter, but the governor has not yet had the opportunity to review it."
PETA's associate director for cruelty investigations, Stephanie Bell, said the group began hearing complaints from Tennesseans in June about TWRA staff recommendations.
"We were told they would look into that but then we got additional reports that cruel methods were being recommended," Bell said.
The letter says PETA initially talked to TWRA Director Ed Carter on June 6 and he "assured us that the issue would be investigated." But the letter says Carter "ignored" a Sept. 10 letter they sent after reports of staff still outlining inhumane methods for disposing of the animals.
Efforts to reach Carter on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Asked about PETA's letter to Bredesen, TWRA's chief of information and education, Don King, said, "I'm not aware of us giving advice like that."
"Many nuisance trappers release the animals they trap and relocate them. If an animal looks suspicious and is not acting normally, it may be taken to animal control for testing," he said.
PETA's Bell said, "We understand that in certain instances animals must be removed and dispatched for a variety of reasons [such as serious injury or disease.]
"If the animal can't be released on the premises, our belief and our desire is to see those animals dispatched humanely," Bell said.
While TWRA's Nashville headquarters says it is unaware of problems, Jackson, Tenn., resident Rob Weems said a receptionist at the agency's West Tennessee office offered him some advice he didn't like after his daughter safely trapped a young skunk at their home.
Weems said the woman asked him if he had a plastic bag, then told him, "OK, put the garbage over it and throw it in the nearest river or lake and drown it."
"I'm not a PETA member or anything," said Weems, who works in law enforcement. "I hunt. I eat meat. I'm not a campaigner against slaughterhouses or chicken houses or anything like that. But that appalls me. A true hunter doesn't want to kill anything like that."
Weems said he got a follow-up call from the TWRA's West Tennessee director, who told him, "Well the best thing is to just drown them. ... If you shoot it, it's going to spray everywhere."
The hunter said he did neither.
"I took my skunk out in the woods and turned him loose and let him go on his fat little way," he said.