It all started in a Smithfield Foods slaughterhouse: Working in construction, Pete Raffetto was renovating the room where pigs were corralled before being stunned and hoisted up by one leg. “The whole experience was a shock,” he recalls. “There was a sickening stench of death. One of the walls bled as we took sledgehammers to it.”
Seeing the pigs’ blood and hearing their screams jolted Pete into considering how animals suffer for humans’ whims, so he decided to see if he could put his construction skills to use to help animals.
From Slaughterhouse to Doghouses
Pete came to the Sam Simon Center, PETA’s Norfolk, Virginia headquarters, for a two-week stint building houses for dogs forced to live outdoors. He could see the result of his work immediately when one previously sad and shivering dog started wagging not just his tail, but his whole bottom when Pete delivered a doghouse to his little patch of dirt. “It felt as if he and I had been pals for years,” he says.
Pete soon joined the PETA Foundation’s Operations (Ops) Department as a full-time employee, turning that short stint into a more than 20-year career, devoting himself to animal rights and becoming vice president of operations.
Come Hell and High Water
Perched on the Atlantic Coast, PETA’s Norfolk, Virginia, headquarters sits in a prime storm path. After Hurricane Irene slammed into the building, Pete was on the scene with supplies to repair the damage before the floodwaters receded. Having to climb out of his residence via the fire escape and wade through waist-deep water for blocks didn’t deter him from transporting staff to and from PETA’s building – by boat!
And when Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas, Pete enabled PETA’s rescue team to reach animal victims in record time. In under four hours, he had a boat, gear, a motor, fuel, and a trailer ready to go plus a van outfitted with a hitch and stuffed with supplies. Thanks to his quick work, PETA’s rescue team saved dozens of animals who would certainly have starved or drowned.
Building a Legacy
Under Pete’s oversight, a derelict former mattress store in Los Angeles became PETA’s sharply designed West Coast hub, the Bob Barker Building (named after The Price Is Right star in honor of his generous contribution to the project). The massive renovation included excavating an 18-foot-deep cavern in order to earthquake-proof the building.
When an SUV barreled through the building’s glass front (thankfully sparing the humans and dogs inside), Pete coordinated speedy repairs so that PETA’s work wouldn’t miss a beat. Later, he commissioned the artist Cache to graffiti a pro-animal message on the building’s exterior.
Pete also supervises PETA’s complicated travel logistics and our Literature Department, which sent out 75,000 vegan starter kits (VSK) in the last year alone. Knowing that each VSK recipient who goes vegan prevents nearly 200 animals a year from experiencing horrors like those he witnessed at Smithfield keeps him energized.
“Will do” is Pete’s favorite saying – and he does it all, from maintaining PETA’s award-winning dog park and bird habitat to figuring out how to ship a life-size animatronic elephant around the world. His team even engineered a giant “shark head” to “burst” out of The Nanci Alexander Center for Animal Rights, PETA’s Washington, D.C., office, to make the point that eating meat kills more humans than sharks ever will.
And Pete and his team are still building doghouses – over 8,000 have been built to date. Each one changes the life of a cold, lonely, neglected dog – just as the first doghouse Pete built for PETA changed his.
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