NEW YORK – When the San Diego Humane Society in California shipped more than 300 rabbits, guinea pigs and rats to the Humane Society of Southern Arizona in Tucson over the summer, it believed that they would be adopted as pets.
But most of the animals may have met a grislier fate, which has led to outrage, anguish and a police investigation.
According to officials at both humane societies, the 323 animals arrived in Tucson on Aug 7 but were not taken into the shelter there.
Instead, the Humane Society of Southern Arizona transferred the animals to a man named Colten Jones, who runs a business in the Phoenix area called the Fertile Turtle, which sells live and frozen animals for reptile feed, both humane societies said in a joint statement.
Officials at both humane societies said they were investigating who arranged the transfer and what, exactly, had happened to the animals. Police said they were also investigating the case as a “possible fraud” but that no one had been charged.
But a piece of possible evidence about the fate of the animals emerged this month when a Tucson news station, KVOA, reported on a text message Mr Jones sent Aug 8, a day after the animals arrived in Tucson.
“Do you have the ability to freeze off a bunch of guinea pigs and or rabbits?” Mr Jones wrote to another man, who did not want to be publicly identified, KVOA reported. “I don’t have the manpower or labour to be able to do it in time for the show and it’s too much time for me.”
The show apparently referred to an upcoming reptile show in Pomona, California, according to KVOA.
Mr Jones did not respond to phone and text messages seeking comment.
The Southern Arizona and San Diego humane societies said in their joint statement that they were outraged by “this latest piece of information that clearly indicates Mr Jones’ intention to use these animals as feed instead of finding them adoptive homes.”
Mr Gary Weitzman, the president and chief executive officer of the San Diego Humane Society, called it “the most horrible text I’ve ever seen in my life.”
“It’s just the most unthinkable outcome,” he said, adding that if he had known the animals could have been turned into reptile food, he would never have agreed to ship them to Arizona.
“Nothing like this in my 30 years of animal welfare has happened before,” he said. “It’s just horrifying.”
He said the San Diego Humane Society was exploring a lawsuit and had hired a private investigator.
“We’ve asked him to do a broad sweep,” Mr Weitzman said. “What was the motivation here?”
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