ANIMAL PEOPLE CRACKS CASE: USDA halts sales of Canadian dogs and cats to U.S. labs
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1993:
WASHINGTON D.C.––Confirming leads gathered by ANIMAL PEO-
PLE editor Merritt Clifton during a 13-year probe, the U.S. Department of
Agriculture in mid-April sealed the Canadian border to imports of dogs and cats for
laboratory use. All Class B animal dealers known to have imported dogs and cats
from Canada were advised in writing that such animals cannot be certified as to ori-
gin in compliance with the Animal Welfare Act.
As many as 2,000 dogs and 6,000 cats have been imported from Canada
each year for resale by Class B dealers. Most come from privately operated pounds
that hold municipal animal control contracts––the majority in Quebec. Rural auc-
tions are another significant source, and still other dogs and cats are stolen.
“This is a permanent halt,” a top USDA undercover investigator told
ANIMAL PEOPLE. “We need confirmation that these animals were born and
bred on the site that they came from for
them to be certifiable under the Animal
Welfare Act, and because we don’t
have jurisdiction in Canada, we aren’t
ever going to be able to get that confir-
mation. We see no likelihood of this
ever being reversed by the U.S/Canada
Free Trade Agreement,” the investiga-
tor added, “and we don’t think the law
will be amended to permit these
imports to resume.”
Clifton became aware of the
international traffic in dogs and cats for
lab use while working for a number of
small papers in both southern Quebec
and northern Vermont in the early
1980s. Every yard dog in one village
would vanish overnight; then every cat
in another. Descriptions of strange
vans seen cruising the streets often
matched the descriptions of vehicles
used in deer poaching incidents.
Pursuing a variety of confidential tips,
Clifton and other part-time sleuths
gradually identified the principal mem-
bers of a shadowy pet theft network.
“I put some of the pieces
together,” Clifton remembers, “but
Montreal-area humane investigators
Anne Streeter and Linda Robertson were the ones who
risked their lives sneaking into a midnight slaughterhouse
that was used as a holding facility to take photographs, and
animal control officer David McWilliams of St. Albans,
Vermont, was the lead detective on that side of the border.
It was frustrating as well as difficult work, because even
after we had considerable circumstantial evidence, none of
us had quite enough to mount a prosecution, and without a
prosecution, it was years before I could convince my editors
to publish a story. They were’t interested in the legal traffic,
in pound animals.”
Most of the traffic was quite legal, conducted by
Quebec animal control contractors Robert Legendre, Serge
Menard, Marcel Malo, Robert Kermel, and Claude Slight.
Legendre’s firm, founded by his father-in-law Etienne
Pesant and legally identified only by an incorporation num-
ber, did business under three different titles.
At deadline, ANIMAL PEOPLE was still await-
ing response to a Freedom of Information Act request for
the list of Class B dealers who received the USDA notice.
However, informed sources indicated one of them was
George Thorsen of Enosburg Falls, Vermont, who had
reportedly recently expanded his operation, and that both
Thorsen and Malo were virtually put out of business.
Like Malo, from whom he bought animals,
Thorsen is a familiar name. He and his daughter operate
facilities in both Enosburg Falls and Westborough,
Massachusetts. In January 1985, Thorsen sought unsuc-
cessfully to build yet another kennel in Bakersfield,
Vermont, 10 miles south of Enosburg Falls, and then
offered to build it in Richford, a severely depressed former
milltown just a mile from the border. That was the news
hook Clifton needed to locally syndicate an expose of the
lab animal traffic. Days after the expose appeared, the
Richford selectmen, some of whom had encouraged
Thorsen, abruptly turned him down.
More extensive exposes followed, produced by
David Johnston of the Montreal Gazette, P a u l i n e
Beauchamp of the Montreal-based Canadian SPCA, and
Les Roberts of CFCF television, who reviewed a 1979 case
in which Class B dealer Rosaire Paradis of St. Albans,
Vermont, sold a dog stolen from Montreal to a Yale
University lab––where the dog was discovered through a
tattoo eight months later. The USDA investigated, but had
no means of taking action under the Animal Welfare Act as
it then stood.
A decade later, however, in early 1989, then-
director of the CSPCA Cynthia Drummond arranged for
Clifton to brief lobbyists Adele Douglass of the American
Humane Association and Martha Armstrong of the
Massachusetts SPCA about the trans-border animal traffic,
in connection with their work to secure passage of the Pet
Theft Act. Language Douglass and Armstrong recommend-
ed was added to the Animal Welfare Act in 1990, giving the
USDA the authority to move.
But the impetus to the USDA action didn’t come
until someone stole prominent Vermont attorney James
Martin’s dog Grizzly Bear in early 1992. Martin not only
caught and prosecuted the alleged thief, but also encour-
aged other people whose animals had disappeared to
demand a USDA probe.
That’s when the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health
Inspection Service came to ANIMAL PEOPLE.
“It was really the information that you provided
that enabled us to proceed,” the undercover investigator
said. “There were many aspects of this business that we
hadn’t been aware of, and once we investigated the leads
you provided, we had what we needed to act.”