U.S. Global Exotics

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U.S. Global Exotics (USGE) is an exotic animal dealer based in Arlington Texas. According to its company description, they are full line live animal importers and exporters who "offer the widest selection of animals in the industry." The company services retail and wholesale markets as well as "all regions of the world.

USGE buys and sells reptiles, mammals, lizards, snakes, arachnids, amphibians, turtles and tortoises. [1]

Undercover investigation & rescue

For seven months in 2009, a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) undercover investigator documented "horrifically cruel conditions" while working undercover at USGE. On December 15, 2009, Arlington officials and humane agents rescued over 26,000 animals, including wallabies, sloths, ringtail lemurs, kinkajous, coatimundis, agoutis, hedgehogs, chinchillas, hamsters, gerbils, rats, mice, flying squirrels, guinea pigs, sugar gliders, prairie dogs, ferrets, snakes, lizards, turtles, frogs, spiders, crabs and scorpions from the company's animal warehouse. The seizure was believed to be the largest animal confiscation in history.

On January 5, 2010, Arlington Municipal Judge Michael Smith divested owner-operators Jasen and Vanessa Shaw of the over 26,000 mammals, reptiles, amphibians and arachnids seized on December 15. USGE was described as a "major player" in the pet trade. Over the years, the company imported and exported hundreds of thousands of animals to sell at major pet stores and chains world wide, including the U.S. based PETCO and PetSmart chains. [2], [3]

"Dead rodents & skinny snakes"

The city was tipped off by federal officials who had executed a warrant for another violation and were concerned about the conditions at the warehouse. The raid revealed starving snakes and hundreds of reptiles packed in shipping crates. According to officials, rodents had "killed and eaten each other". Dozens of personnel from the city of Arlington and animal welfare groups took inventory of the animals and removed them from the ware house. According to Jay Sabatucci, manager of Arlington animal services:

"Sometimes animals die, but the amount of animals dead far exceeded what you would normally see at any company like this. Animals were not fed, not fed properly, overcrowded and attacking each other. Some were in an environment not proper for them, such as snakes in a 72-degree room with a lamp over them, which is not enough heat and could cause them to die."

The warehouse held mostly reptiles and rodents, but also spiders, sloths and hedgehogs. According to Maura Davies of the Texas Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), Veterinarians treated the most severely malnourished animals.

"Hundreds of rodents were crammed in small containers covered with wire, and many had killed and eaten each other. Other animals were kept in feeding troughs, and there were numerous stacked shipping containers still holding turtles and other reptiles that had been sent to the company. About 200 iguanas were in one small room."

The internet based company did not respond to a telephone message seeking comment. [4]

Owners attorney attempts to shift blame to investigator

Undercover investigator Howard Goldman was paid $135 for each day he turned in a report while working as snake caretaker. According to PETA, he "did all he could to help animals" while working at the facility. The group was responding to accusations by Lance Evans, an attorney for Jasen and Vanessa Shaw, who fought to regain custody of their 'stock'. According to Mr. Evans, Mr. Goldman "let snakes go for weeks without food or water or clean cages." However, according to Mr. Goldman's testimony, he was responsible for the care of 1,500 to 3,000 snakes at once. He also testified that the owners refused to pay for food, medical and other supplies.

USGE employee Paul Boiko, testified that "most animals were fed and watered regularly and a veterinarian visited once a week." He also described keeping cold blooded animals like turtles and iguanas in cold conditions as "standard industry practice" to "force hibernation so they wouldn’t eat or move much." According to Mr. Boiko, "some animals were not fed before being packaged to avoid problems during shipping."[5]

Court rules not to return animals seized in raid

On January 5, Municipal Judge Michael Smith granted custody of the animals to the city of Arlington, which placed them under the care of the SPCA of Texas. Plans were also made for wild caught animals to be sent to zoos and sanctuaries with expertise in caring for exotic animals. "Appalling conditions" included hundreds of animals found already dead at the time of the raid. Approximately 4,000 animals died later. Howard Goldman, who worked at the animal warehouse for seven months and provided photographic evidence and undercover video, also participated in the custody hearing. Mr. Goldman, testified to being "responsible for the care of 1,500 to 3,000 snakes at any one time" as well as the Shaw's refusal to pay for basic necessities:

"We never had the proper amount of food. The snakes would go two or three weeks without even being offered food. There were days I found hundreds of snakes dead. (Wild caught animals were) kept for days or weeks in pillowcases, shipping boxes, or soda bottles without food or water or even proper heat and humidity. Tree frogs were "kept for weeks on end in soda bottles that were sitting in a cardboard box in the facility's washroom."

PETA's president, Ingrid Newkirk responded to Mr. Evans' accusations in an email to the Associated Press. According to Ms. Newkirk, USGE was attempting "to pin the blame for a litany of horrors on the one person who actually cared about the animals." According to Judge Smith, some evidence during the hearing:

"indicated that this facility was operated in accordance with industry standards of the exotic animal trade. ... While this may be true, this court is not free to substitute those standards for the standards set by Texas statutes."

Mr. Evans expected his clients to appeal. He requested in court that "animals for which there was no evidence of cruel treatment to be returned to the Shaws."[6]

Custody of animals awarded to city

The city officials were awarded custody of the animals after a seven day hearing. According to PETA, the company's lawyer "tried every trick in the book to downplay Jasen and Vanessa Shaw's failure to provide animals in their care with basic, minimal necessities such as food, water, and adequate housing." However, according to evidence from the seven month investigation and the day of the seizure:

  • A staff of three or four people was responsible for the care of "tens of thousands of animals." Animals suffered from cruel confinement, severe crowding and filthy containers. Animals were kept in soda bottles, milk jugs, litter pans, cattle troughs and barren wire cages. Hundreds of animals were denied basic necessities such as food, water and veterinary care.
  • Hundreds of sick, injured and dying animals were put in a chest freezer to die. Some, including a squirrel with a severely lacerated neck and a chinchilla bleeding from a prolapsed rectum, survived for hours before succumbing.
  • Countless wild-caught animals made grueling journeys from native habitats. "Deplorable (and) substandard" conditions included beng kept for days or weeks in pillowcases, shipping boxes or soda bottles without food and water and proper heat and humidity controls.
  • Exotic animals (including some endangered species), were continually kept in barren bins, wire bird cages and dungeon-like metal troughs, sometimes for months or years at a time. Many developed abnormal, stress-induced neurotic behaviors such as incessant pacing, frantic clawing and fighting for space and food.
  • Hundreds of iguanas and other lizards were never unpacked upon arrival. They died inside mesh bags and "shipping cups. At least 12,000 turtles were kept in boxes for weeks, while deprived of food, water, light and adequate ventilation. In a single day, 657 turtles were recorded on the warehouse's "dead list".
  • The day of the seizure, decomposing, liquefying remains of over than 200 iguanas were extracted from bags which contained almost as many live iguanas. They had been crammed into wooden crates at he company's frigid warehouse and left without food or water for almost two weeks, waiting to be shipped to Egypt.

Green tree frogs were kept in soda bottles for weeks at a time. The bottles sat in a cardboard box in the facility's washroom. No one was assigned to their care and they went without food and water for weeks at a time. At shipping time, some employees, including USGE supervisor Ari Flagle, violently shook the frogs (whose bodies are very small and delicate) out of the bottle and pulled them out by their legs. Mr. Flagle was later employed by the Fort Worth Zoo, working with frogs and other animals under the supervision of Mike Doss, who testified on behalf of USGE.

According to PETA, "millions of animals in trapped in the pet trade, suffer at similar facilities." [7]

Second court ruling upholds decision

On January 30, 2010, Tarrant County Court Judge Jennifer Rymell upheld Judge Smith's January 5 ruling. After reviewing hours of testimony, video and photographic evidence from the investigation and the seizure, she upheld a ruling determining that owners Jasen and Vanessa Shaw were guilty of animal cruelty towards all animals seized on December 15. Thousands of animals were denied basic care and cruelly confined to hideously cramped, filthy litter pans, cattle-feeding troughs, boxes, bags and even soda bottles. The investigator documented that starving and dehydrated animals had resorted to eating each other due to hunger and stress. Some animals had wounds so deep that muscle and bone were exposed and others had legs chewed off. Animals were disposed of like trash and intentionally frozen to death in freezers.

After the raid, the confiscated animals were held at a facility set up by experts brought in by PETA and cared for by staff members of the SPCA of Texas, Detroit Zoo, the Humane Society of North Texas and other groups. Food and supplies were subsidized by PETA, with costs running at several thousand dollars a week. Many of the animals were permanently placed in the Detroit Zoo. Pre-screened groups were scheduled to take in many other animals. [8]

Spotlight on USGE could include industry

The December 15, 2009 seizure of over 26,000 animals from USGE and the subsequent seven days of municipal court testimony, shocked those who were previously unaware of the exotic pet trade. Conditions were described as "deplorable", in Smith's ruling:

"Only three workers present at the time of the seizure were dedicated exclusively to caring for the thousands of mostly 'wild-caught' reptiles, rare mammals, amphibians and spiders. Experts testified that the number should have been 20 to 40. All of the animals were subjected to poor air quality (and) a strong ammonia odor resulting from urine.
"Many of the animals were housed in overcrowded conditions, including many types of animals that are solitary by nature and should not be forced into close proximity even with others from their own species.
"Many of the animals were unreasonably deprived of basic needs, such as food, water, clean bedding, and heat." That includes 414 iguanas boxed up for shipment and left without food or water for two weeks while the order for them fell through."

"Profoundly troubled industry"

A surprising finding was Judge Smith's ruling that the 600 dead animals found on the day of the seizure "do not constitute conclusive evidence of cruel treatment." Nor, he wrote, should Arlington be held responsible for the deaths of almost 4,000 more that died after the city took custody. According to Judge Smith, the "death rate in the animal trade is generally high. One witness cited a study that indicated that as many as 70% of reptiles die before reaching their ultimate purchaser."

Some wild caught animals have diseases or parasites. Others experience stress from capture, transport, temperature changes and/or other factors. Some animals stop eating and die. While Judge Smith found that all the animals had been treated cruelly, he added that:

"Evidence was received which indicated that this facility was operated in accordance with industry standards of the exotic animal trade. While this may be true, this Court is not free to substitute those standards for the standards set by Texas statutes."

The ruling dealt a major financial blow to the company and the exotic pet trade industry, particularly as such conditions apparently reflect "industry standards." [9]

Lack of protection under AWA

Rats, mice, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish are not covered under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Species not covered under the AWA expressly eliminated from all safeguards. See also U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Personnel

  • Jasen Shaw - President, owner-operator
  • Vanessa Shaw - owner-operator

Articles & sources

SourceWatch articles

References

  1. U.S. Global Exotics, Inc., Tradeboss.com, accessed February 2010
  2. Karin Bennett Dealer Loses Custody of 'Stock' Because of Cruel Treatment of Animals, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, January 5, 2010
  3. PetSmart Cruelty to Animals: Business as Usual, PETA.org, accessed January 2010
  4. Angela K. Brown Dead rodents, skinny snakes found in Texas raid, Associated Press, December 16, 2009
  5. PETA: Worker can’t be blamed for animal neglect, Associated Press, December 29, 2009
  6. Lindsay Barnett Judge rules that more than 20,000 exotic animals seized in raid on Texas dealer shouldn't be returned, Los Angeles Times, January 6, 2010
  7. Karin Bennett Dealer Loses Custody of 'Stock' Because of Cruel Treatment of Animals, PETA.org, January 5, 2010
  8. Shawn Flavell Victory! Second Judge Rules that USGE Will Not Regain Custody of Animals, PETA.org, January 31, 2010
  9. Spotlight on Arlington animal business could include industry, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, January 6, 2010

External articles