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(AP) - Two Hampton Roads employees of Norfolk-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have been charged in Ahoskie, N.C., with animal cruelty after dumping dead dogs and cats in a shopping center garbage bin, police said Thursday.

Investigators staked out the bin after discovering that dead animals had been dumped there every Wednesday for the past four weeks, Ahoskie police said in a prepared statement.

Police found 18 dead animals in the trash bin and 13 more in a van registered to PETA. The animals were from animal shelters in Northampton and Bertie counties in North Carolina, police said. The two were picking up animals to be brought back to PETA headquarters for euthanization, PETA president Ingrid Newkirk said Thursday.

Neither police nor PETA offered any theory on why the animals might have been dumped.

Local officials and veterinarians said they were told that PETA would find homes for the animals, not euthanize them. PETA has scheduled a news conference for Friday afternoon to discuss the charges.

Police charged Andrew Benjamin Cook, 24, of Virginia Beach, and Adria Joy Hinkle, 27, of Norfolk,each with 31 felony counts of animal cruelty and eight misdemeanor counts of illegal disposal of dead animals. They were released on bond and an initial court date was set for Friday in Winton.

Hinkle has been suspended, but Cook continues to work PETA, Newkirk said. Hinkle has worked for more than two years as one of its community animal project employees in North Carolina, PETA spokeswoman Colleen O'Brien said. Cook, who joined a couple of months ago, was being trained.

Newkirk said she doubted Hinkle had ever been cruel to an animal and said if the animals were placed in the bin, "We will be appalled."

PETA euthanizes animals by lethal injection, which it considers more humane than gassing groups of animals, as poor counties are forced to do, O'Brien said.

"PETA has provided euthanasia services to various counties in (North Carolina) to prevent animals from being shot behind a shed or gassed in windowless metal boxes, both practices that were carried out until PETA volunteered to provide a painless death, free of charge," Newkirk said.

But veterinarian Patrick Proctor said that authorities found a female cat and her two "very adoptable" kittens among the dead animals. He said they were taken from Ahoskie Animal Hospital.

"These were just kittens we were trying to find homes for," he said. "PETA said they would do that, but these cats never made it out of the county."

PETA had taken 50 animals from Proctor's practice over the past two years, he said.

PETA also has taken animals from veterinarian James Brown in Northampton County.

"When they started taking them, they said they would try to find homes for them," Brown said, adding that no one checked on the animals afterward.

Barry Anderson, Bertie County's animal control officer, identified nearly all of the dumped dogs as ones that Cook and Hinkle picked up just a few hours earlier Wednesday, said Detective Sgt. Ed Pittman of the Bertie County Sheriff's Office.

Anderson also said that the PETA representatives "told him they were picking up the dogs to take them back to Norfolk where they would find them good homes," Pittman said.

Hinkle and Cook appeared in Hertford District Court Friday in Winton, N.C., where prosecutors added trespassing charges against both. No pleas were entered during the proceedings.
 
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