A little girl's pet Chihuahua disappeared from her family's mobile home on Virginia's Eastern Shore.
With the dognapping caught on videotape, the girl's father suspected workers from PETA.
As a state agency's investigation is about to become public record, the Norfolk-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is breaking its silence on the bizarre ordeal.
It's our fault, the agency acknowledges. We're very sorry. And we'll do whatever it takes to keep it from happening again.
A contract PETA worker who previously was the agency's human resources director took 3-year-old Maya last fall from the family's porch in Parksley and had the dog killed the same day.
The state has determined that PETA violated state law by failing to ensure that the animal was properly identified and failing to keep the dog alive for five days before killing it, according to the notice from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Because of this "critical finding" and the "severity of this lapse in judgment," the agency issued PETA the organization's first-ever violation and imposed the largest fine allowed, $500.
"We were pretty devastated that this happened for obvious reasons," said Daphna Nachminovitch, a senior vice president for PETA who oversees the team that was responsible for the euthanization. "It shouldn't have happened. It was a terrible mistake."
PETA has made several changes to prevent such an incident from happening again. Field workers who pick up animals now must complete an additional form to verify that all proper steps have been taken. Supervisors also must approve of any unscheduled "animal surrenders" in the field.
In interviews this week - PETA's first time speaking publicly on this matter - Nachminovitch could not provide answers for some key questions about the incident. She said PETA's attorney instructed her not to talk to the worker involved because of the state and criminal investigations into the situation.
For example, Nachminovitch said, she doesn't know why PETA staff members didn't try to find a home for the dog after taking it into custody.
"That was a major part of the error," Nachminovitch said. She could not explain why it was killed the same day.
Asked how the breakdown occurred, Nachminovitch said she didn't know. "I can only tell you I worked very hard to make sure that it never, ever happens again."
The setting for this case was a mobile home park in Accomack County, near the Maryland border.
PETA's workers had been contacted by a nearby farmer who reported that packs of abandoned dogs had been attacking his livestock, Nachminovitch said.
At the trailer park, PETA workers found that some residents were feeding the dogs, which also reportedly had attacked a child and some pets there.
PETA workers caught some of those dogs on their five or so trips to the trailer park. They also spayed and neutered some animals and provided animal food to residents.
They even gave Maya's owner, Wilbur Cerate, a dog house and light-weight cable for one of his other dogs, Nachminovitch said.
Cerate had also asked for PETA's help with removing some feral cats that were under his trailer.
"So there was a relationship," Nachminovitch said. "He was familiar with the person who, you know..."
On the day that Maya was grabbed, the PETA workers were there to help remove cats from Cerate's trailer, Nachminovitch said.
They caught two feral cats that day. But they also took Maya, who had been a gift for Cerate's daughter.
PETA contract worker Victoria Jean Carey, the former human resources director, fetched Maya from Cerate's porch. She put the dog in a white van and was driven away by a second woman, PETA staffer Jennifer Lisa Woods. Woods, PETA's senior communications administrator, volunteered to go with Carey that day on her own time. Their actions were caught by Cerate's security camera.