Concerned animal lovers and a humane society in California are desperate to get to the bottom of how hundreds of animals mysteriously vanished after they were transferred to a humane society in southern Arizona.
Two former leaders at the Humane Society of Southern Arizona are under investigation into their handling of the 318 small animals commonly referred to as “pocket pets” — guinea pigs, rats and mice, hamsters, and rabbits — the organization’s board of directors said in an Oct. 5 news conference.
Chief Executive Officer Steve Farley was fired, and Chief Operating Officer Christian Gonzalez resigned, Chairperson Robert Garcia said during the conference.
The controversy surrounding the fate of the animals started after the San Diego Humane Society (SDHS) transferred them to its counterpart in Tucson on Aug. 7 “for the express purpose of finding these animals permanent homes,” according to a Sept. 18 legal notice the California organization sent to the Arizona one.
After that, the pocket pets vanished without a trace, according to information posted to the San Diego Humane Society’s website.
Rather than working with the local pet rescue community and schools to find homes for the animals, the Humane Society of Southern Arizona (HSSA) handed the pocket pets off to an anonymous man believed to be one of the brothers behind a “family-run private group” — which turned out to be a reptile firm about 140 miles northwest in Maricopa County, Garcia said during the news conference.
The brother was “merely an individual who routinely facilitated animal adoptions, primarily through personal relationships at his church and in the community and was not a licensed rescue organization,” Garcia said.
While the brothers said they placed the animals into various homes, there were no records of adoptions, Garcia said.
The rescue community and the San Diego Humane Society grew increasingly concerned over the pocket pets’ potential fate, the organization said.
Eventually, the brothers returned 64 animals to the southern Arizona humane society — leaving more than 250 pocket pets still unaccounted for, Garcia said.
The San Diego Humane Society “will continue to pursue definitive proof about the status of the missing animals,” according to a statement on the organization’s website.
Some members of the public seem to have come to a conclusion about what they believe happened to the pocket pets.
A comment under the Humane Society of Southern Arizona’s statement posted to Facebook on Oct. 2 reads: “You sent them to two brothers who breed small animals for reptile food, not a small animal rescue.”
This story was originally published October 5, 2023, 7:49 PM.
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