Hundreds of small animals relocated from San Diego to Southern Arizona earlier this year were provided to a reptile breeder who sells live and frozen animals as food, officials said Thursday.
The situation has led to the firings of two top Humane Society of Southern Arizona officials and threats of legal action.
In August, San Diego Humane Society crews transferred over 300 animals to the Tucson-based Humane Society as local shelters were over capacity.
But the whereabouts of around 250 of the 318 transferred animals, which included guinea pigs, rats, hamsters and rabbits, soon grew murky.
Humane Society officials in San Diego said they were told the animals were transferred to a single anonymous private rescue, but no proof was provided over the next few months as to where the animals were.
The Tucson organization later fired its CEO – a former state legislator – and accepted the resignation of its chief programs officer over the issue.
The board of directors said the agency’s former CEO, Steve Farley, had assured the board that the animals had been moved to “a private family-run group in Maricopa County that had strong community resources and connections, and that, to avoid animals being dumped at their doorstep, did not want its information to be made public.”
In a joint statement issued Thursday, both San Diego and Southern Arizona officials say the bulk of the animals were transferred to a man named Colten Jones, who runs a reptile breeding company called the Fertile Turtle.
While 62 animals were returned to the Tucson group, the fate of the remaining animals is uncertain.
However, in a recently uncovered text message sent one day after receiving the animals, Jones sought help from someone “in processing a high volume of guinea pigs and rabbits for food,” the agencies said.
“The board, staff and volunteers of HSSA and SDHS share our community’s outrage and this latest piece of information that clearly indicates Mr. Jones’ intention to use these animals as feed instead of finding them adoptive homes. We are heartbroken for every one of these animals and every individual who shares our concern for them,” the statement read.
According to the statement, both organizations are considering legal action. The Tucson-based group is expected to publish a report next month stemming from an internal investigation into the matter. San Diego officials say they also are looking into the situation.
“These investigations and corresponding recommendations are critical to ensure this tragedy never happens again and that those who are responsible are held accountable,” the statement read.
– City News Service