Arizona and San Diego humane societies could pursue legal action over missing small animals

By Ignacio Ventura
Associated Press
Published: Friday, November 10, 2023 - 6:12pm
Updated: Tuesday, November 14, 2023 - 9:18am

People load animal crates into truck
San Diego Humane Society
Volunteers prep small animals for transport on Aug. 7, 2023.

On Thursday, The Humane Society of Southern Arizona and the San Diego Humane Society released new information regarding the disappearance of several guinea pigs, rabbits and other small animals.

In August, the San Diego Humane Society transferred 300 small pets to their Southern Arizona counterparts. Those animals were later sent to an individual whose business includes selling live and frozen animals for reptile feed. While several animals were eventually returned, most were not and remained missing.

Now, both organizations say they recently learned of a text message which indicated the individual’s intention to use the animals as food instead of finding them adoptive homes. The San Diego Humane Society intends to pursue legal action, while the Humane Society of Southern Arizona is considering it.

“I’m heartbroken for our organization whose mission it is to protect and save animals,” Humane Society of Southern Arizona board chair Robert Garcia said at a news conference last week.

Garcia, who is a Tucson attorney, didn’t immediately return a phone call Monday seeking an update on the situation.

But on the society’s website, Garcia said the breeder clearly intended “to use these animals as feed instead of finding them adoptive homes.”

Garcia said he wants to “ensure this tragedy never happens again and that those who are responsible are held accountable.”

Authorities said that due to overcrowding, the San Diego Humane Society asked the southern Arizona nonprofit chapter in July for help with finding homes for a large group of “pocket pets” that included rabbits and guinea pigs.

Garcia said 323 small animals were transferred to Tucson and then Phoenix in August. They were supposed to be in the hands of a man who facilitated animal adoptions, but authorities said they wound up with his brother who operated the reptile farm.

Garcia said 62 small animals were returned after the Tucson agency began asking questions about the whereabouts of the others.

They later learned about the breeder and that part of his business included selling both live and frozen animals for reptile feed.

The Humane Society of Southern Arizona fired its CEO last month and also accepted the resignation of its chief operating officer.

Its board reportedly did not learn of the reptile farm owner's involvement until weeks after the animal transfer.