There are at least three kinds of people I just have no tolerance for: child abusers/molesters, spouse abusers, and people who abuse or are cruel to animals. On a seemingly unrelated note, I also love documentary films. So, when I read the Washington Post review of HBO’s documentary Dealing Dogs, about an undercover investigation by Last Chance for Animals that eventually shut down what I can only describe after seeing the film as a hell for dogs, I knew I wanted to see it even if it wasn’t going to be easy to watch.
Filmmakers Tom Simon and Sarah Teale never flinch in their depiction of this hellhole, which federal authorities shut down for good last year, partly on the strength of Pete’s undercover work. Some of the footage straddles the line between painful and sickening. Dead dogs, dying dogs, dogs in various stages of starvation, dogs covered with hideous bite wounds, dogs with their ears half-chewed off — all are prominent in the eye of Pete’s hidden camera. Dogs with heartworm are shot so that the worms can be harvested for sale to researchers; apparently they fetch a higher price than the dogs themselves.
Dogs that are deemed to be biters, however scanty the evidence, are put down. We see a perfectly friendly cocker spaniel shot to death for just that reason. After pulling the trigger, the shooter shrugs and says, “Oh well, what the [bleep].” After lobbing the body onto a pile of carcasses, the man cries out jauntily, “Ex-dogs!”
Pete’s camera also records visits from “bunchers,” who come to the kennel three times a week to sell dogs. Nobody asks where the dogs came from, but given the number of purebreds and the number that look to humans for kindness and caring, it seems apparent that at least some of them were pets.
Animal rights activists as a group tend to get a bad rap, I think, based on a handful of extremists, engaging in violent acts. So, when something like this comes along, I tend to want to give people their “props.” LCA took the long, tedious and seemingly soul-draining route of investigations large scale animal abuse and then turning it’s evidence over to the state attorney’s office and the FDA. In the long run they brought down one of the most notorious animal abuse enterprises in the business. Folks, from what I’ve seen this looks like animal rights activism at its best.
So who are Class B dog and cat dealers? They’re brokers who acquire animals from a variety of sources—including “pounds,” flea markets, and newspaper ads—and then sell them to research institutions or veterinary schools. Class B dealers are regulated under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which mandates minimum care and handling standards for animals in a variety of environments. But these dealers, putting profits before pooches, are regularly cited for violating the AWA and have long been a cause for concern for many.
… Licensed by the USDA, Class B dealers can buy animals, including dogs, from “random sources” (meaning animals not bred or raised on the dealers’ property) and sell them to animal research facilities for biomedical research, testing, and educational purposes. Research facilities don’t exclusively rely on Class B dealers to acquire their animals. They can also purchase “purpose-bred” dogs from breeders (Class A dealers) or, in states that allow it, from animal shelters (a practice known as “pound seizure”). In fact, with only 15 Class B dog and cat dealers selling to research institutions in the United States today, many question why they exist at all. (A list of these and other dealers can be viewed at the USDA web site).
And LCA brought down one of the most notorious of the Class B dealers: C.C Baird.
In January, 2005, a settlement was reached in Baird’s civil case. The consent decision was finalized on January 28th and permanently revoked Baird’s USDA license and slapped him with a fine of $262,700, the largest fine ever imposed by the USDA/APHIS.
As part of his criminal case, on August 30, 2005, Baird pleaded guilty to felony charges of conspiracy to launder money in an operation involving the sale of dogs and cats to research laboratories.
Baird’s guilty plea stems from his role in mail fraud, in which he violated the Animal Welfare Act by transferring dogs and cats to research facilities with false acquisition records through his facility, Martin Creek Kennels. The charge against Baird is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of more than $5 million.
Baird’s wife, Patsy, a USDA-licensed Class “A” dealer (animal breeder) and owner of breeding facility Pat’s Pine Tree Farm, pleaded guilty to misprision of felony mail fraud. The Bairds consented to criminal forfeiture of $200,000 and approximately 700 acres of land — which includes their residence and former dog and cat kennels — in Sharp County, Arkansas, valued at $1.1 million. They also agreed to pay approximately $42,400 in partial reimbursement of investigative costs as directed by the USDA, which will reimburse animal rescue groups that took custody of animals seized from Baird’s property.
The hero here is “Pete”, LCA’s undercover investigator who spent six months working at Baird’s kennel and documenting the cruelties suffered by dogs unfortunate enough to end up there. Day in, day out he saw dogs kept in freezing kennels, in filthy conditions. He saw sick and injured dogs left to die. He saw dog with open bite wounds dunked into chemical baths, sometimes slung into the baths by ropes tied around their necks. He saw every morning who’d died from malutrition, woundmalnutritions, or simple exposure. He even saw one dog, deemed a “biter” when he snapped at a kennel worker who tried to push his head to the ground (moments after the dog was sniffing a licking Pete’s hand), shot. But before the dog was shot, Pete was offered an opportunity to take it, which he turned down to avoid blowing his cover and the investigation (which would save the lives of other dogs) along with it. We see the dog shot on camera as well. Pete also notes that the people he’s working with at the kennel tend to have lots of guns on hand, and muses that they might put a bullet in his head as easily as a dog’s if his cover is blown.
If you’re guessing that I managed to develop a mild crush on “Pete” — the kind that fades after a day or so — you’re right. Still, given the work that he does and the danger he assumes on behalf of defenseless beings, I can’t help but admire the guy. And, yes, I think there was danger involved in his work on the investigation. The documentary provides a window into a world so crazy that cognitive dissonance goes unnoticed and seems downright normal. In one scene we hear a kennel employee brush off the plight of a dying dog — one of “god’s creatures” lying on the concrete floor of her cage, in shock, covered with filth and open bite marks — because he had to go to an Easter egg hunt. The worker claimed to have given the dog some “medicine” and declared “It’ll probably be dead tomrorow.” And he was rightomorrow later there’s the jaw dropping revelation that C.C. Baird — proprieter of the kennel — was also a minister of the local Church of God
In a world at war, and in which intraspecies abuse (human to human) is a regular and barely-even-noteworthy occurance, it’s tempting to ask why people put so much time and energy into investigating stuff like this. After all, their just dogs or just animals. But if you ask me, suffering is suffering and cruelty is cruelty — made all the more obscene by being utterly unecessary. Most of the dogs in the kennel were destined for research facilities, but no matter where you stand on the subject of animal research, it’s pretty clear the conditions and treatment they suffered at the kennel wasn’t necessary under any circumstances.
There’s plenty of suffering and cruelty in the world, more than enough for anyone and everyone to take a part in ending or alleviating it, and it’s all interconnected. (The leap from torturing four-legged creatures to torturing two-legged creatures is not a far one at all, and all manner of inhumanity stems from it once made.) No one person or organization can take it all on. So, you do what you can where you can. LCA, the film makers, and “Pete” have provided an excellent lesson in just how to do it.