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    Advocates horrified over mysterious fate of small animals
    • October 13, 2023

    One of the small animals transferred to Arizona by the San Diego Humane Society in August (Courtesy SDHS)

    There’s a scandal rocking the animal rescue world a wee bit south of here. Seems the San Diego County Humane Society transferred hundreds of small furries to the Humane Society of Southern Arizona in August — which then transferred them to “a single, unaccredited, anonymous organization.”

    Oops. Now no one knows what ultimately happened to 250 of those animals, which include guinea pigs, rats, hamsters and rabbits. What they do know is that a relative of the man who runs that “single, unaccredited, anonymous organization” owns a reptile farm that sells frozen and live animals for snake food.

    “Our leading theory, and most people’s leading theory, is that these animals ended up as food for reptiles,” said Gary Weitzman, the president of the San Diego Humane Society, on Fox5.  “We hope it’s not the case, but it’s impossible to think otherwise.”

    There are lawyers involved. Investigations underway. The Southern Arizona Humane Society’s CEO and its chief programs officer lost their jobs. San Diego officials are demanding a detailed accounting of the names and contact information for everyone who took custody of those animals, along with “an answer to the question we all are asking — how could a ‘small family run’ rescue group do what virtually no other shelter or rescue group would be able to do: adopt out 250 small animals in a matter of weeks?”

    There’s a situation in Orange County that’s not exactly parallel, but has similar story elements.

    A small herpetology rescue has taken possession of more than 830 animals from Orange County Animal Control since last year. More than 700 of them were rodents, rabbits and fowl, county data shows.

    Those animals did not wind up as snake food, the rescue and Orange County Animal Control told us. But once the rescue — Southern California Herpetology Association & Rescue — hands off the animals to schools, programs, re-habbers, etc., it is no longer involved, “as these animals are not our ‘specialty,’” SoCal Herpetology told us.

    The lack of detail on what happens down the line makes some local animal activists uncomfortable. They can’t quite figure out how a small group has managed to place so many small animals, especially without an onslaught of social media pleading for adopters.

    We were able to find just a couple of online postings of adoptable bunnies, rats, hamsters, etc. from SoCal Herpetology this year. OCAC spokeswoman Jackie Tran found a couple as well.

    It was the dearth of online “please adopt!” activity that prompted San Diego officials to look further into the fate of the animals it sent to Arizona, which resulted in the scandal it’s dealing with today. That doesn’t seem to be the case here.

    “OC Animal Care takes all reports of animal cruelty seriously and considers using adoptable pets as a feed source to be cruel,” Tran said by email. “If specific allegations are raised against any of the adoption partners affiliated with OC Animal Care, they would undergo an investigation, and if the claims were substantiated, appropriate legal action would be pursued.”

    Before forming partnerships with rescue groups, “we thoroughly conduct due diligence, allowing us to be well-informed,” Tran said. “Specifically with SCHA&R, the rescue underwent thorough research, leading us to see their active involvement in the community and their expertise.”

    Though there are no specific legal mandates for partners to provide documentation on what happens to animals down the line, “we maintain ongoing conversations with our adoption partners and regularly receive updates on animal placements from many,” Tran said.

    Folks are encouraged to immediately report suspected animal cruelty or neglect to 714-935-6848, she said.

    We asked the county supervisors, who oversee OCAC, if looking into what happens after a rescue hands off animals to third parties might be worthwhile, but heard a lot of crickets.

    Kim Murrell, president of Save SomeBunny rescue, has some ideas.

    “Most rescues in OC (including SoCal Herp) are 501(c)(3) non-profits. When we get shelter pull rights, we have to prove to OCAC that we are legit, and the paperwork filed with the state says what our mission is,” she said by email. “In order to prevent misuse of pull rights, and even the appearance of impropriety, the shelter could only allow a rescue to pull (i.e. take without paying a fee) the type of animal they are officially organized to rescue.”

    OCAC could allow a rescue to pull another type of animal — if it pays the regular adoption fee, she suggested.

    “In my view, the shelter has a responsibility to vet a rescue before releasing animals to them,” Murrell said. “If the herp society is just pulling for other rescues, those rescues should be vetted.”

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    ​ Orange County Register