Hundreds of ‘pocket pets’ from CA likely ended up as reptile food in AZ, officials say

Animal welfare officials uncovered information that suggests hundreds of small animals met a grisly fate after they mysteriously vanished in Arizona.

About 250 “pocket pets” — guinea pigs, rats and mice, hamsters, and rabbits — likely ended up in the hands of a reptile dealer outside Phoenix in Maricopa County, Humane Society of Southern Arizona Board of Directors Chairperson Robert Garcia said in a Thursday, Nov. 9 news conference.

Facing overcrowding, the San Diego Humane Society transferred the animals to its counterpart in Tucson on Aug. 7 “for the express purpose of finding these animals permanent homes,” McClatchy News previously reported. After that, the pocket pets vanished without a trace.

The southern Arizona humane society eventually discovered the animals had ended up with the reptile breeder — who asked for help “processing a large number of guinea pigs and rabbits for food for an upcoming reptile-related show” in a text message sent about a day after receiving the pocket pets, Garcia said in the conference.

“This latest piece of information clearly indicates (the reptile breeder’s) intention to use these animals as feed instead of finding them adoptive homes,” Garcia said. “We are heartbroken for every one of these animals and (for) every individual who shares our concern.”

The reptile breeder denied the allegations but failed to provide information that would clear his name after officials asked him to “repeatedly,” Garcia said.

The man runs the reptile firm with his brother, according to Garcia. They previously told officials they placed the pets into various homes but could not provide records of those adoptions, McClatchy News previously reported.

The Humane Society of Southern Arizona is pursuing civil and criminal charges against the brothers and the employees who handed the pocket pets off to them, Garcia said. He declined to name those employees.

Employees at the organization had worked with the brothers at the reptile firm in the past, Garcia said. The brothers had delivered food and agreed to take certain exotic animals — as well as eight or so rabbits at some point.

“I have no explanation as to why the animals went to him and how that conclusion was reached by former employees of the humane society,” he said.

Officials investigated two former leaders at the southern Arizona humane society — one was fired and the other resigned in October, McClatchy News reported.

The organization hired an interim CEO, and they’ve been “making quite the difference in helping us change our culture and making sure this never happens again,” Garcia said, adding that the organization would “continue to learn from this.”

Animal lovers and employees at the humane society, including Garcia, were devastated to learn of the pocket pets’ likely gruesome fate, he said.

“We could not have conceived anything like this happening,” Garcia said. “I’m heartbroken for the animals, for our community and our organization whose mission it is to help and save animals.”

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