BOOKS: Stolen For Profit: How The Medical Establishment Is Funding A National Pet Theft Conspiracy

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 1993:

Stolen For Profit: How The Medical
Establishment Is Funding A National Pet
Theft Conspiracy, by Jude Reitman. Pharos
Books (New York), 1993.
[Reviewed for Rockydell Resources, a library informa
tion bulletin; reprinted by permission.]

The Stolen For Profit jacket blurb informs the
reader that author Judith Reitman is an “investigative jour-
nalist,” but her book owes far more to romance novels than
it does to hardnosed and accurate reporting. In purple prose
worthy of a Danielle Steele, Reitman recounts several sto-
ries of pet theft––stories which were fully described in
newspaper accounts that were presented to Congress upon
the introduction of the Pet Theft Act in September 1988.
She has taken these stories and created docu-melodramas
out of them, in which dialogue, often suggestive, is attrib-
uted to the players. Witness this passage describing Barbara
Ruggiero, during her trial for stealing dogs in California:
As Barbara smiled at her attorney, her cheeks
dimpled, she wore no makeup and looked very demure.
“How does a girl get so many men to do those
things for her?” a woman in the gallery wondered aloud.
There has been much speculation about Barbara’s method
of coercion.
While a fascination with Ms. Ruggiero’s dimples
and seductiveness may be appropriate to pulp fiction, it and
many similar passages only serve to distract readers from
the serious issue of pet theft. One wishes the author had
shown the same eye for detail and context when dealing
with the facts, cases, and laws of pet theft. Reitman cites
no sources. And her book is filled with breathless conspira-
cy theories, which are based on little or no evidence and are
at best implausible.
One egregious example of Reitman’s obsessive
attempt to find conspiracies where none exist involves ANI-
MAL PEOPLE editor Merritt Clifton’s 1992 national sur-
vey of pet owners to ascertain the incidence of pet theft.
Reitman devotes a chapter to outlining the supposedly hid-
den agenda behind this survey, implying that Clifton (a
journalist, then with Animals’ Agenda magazine) was
somehow subverted by a grant the magazine received from
the Parks Trust (which only funds animal protection pro-
jects) to produce a report that found the number of stolen
pets was much lower than the estimates produced by Mary
Warner of the advocacy group Action 81, and further found
that not all of the stolen pets were ending up in research lab-
oratories. The basis for Reitman’s claim is that Dr. Andrew
Rowan of the Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine was the
chair of the grants committee that decided to make the award
for a pet theft study to Animals’ Agenda. Reitman infers that
because Tufts has received large donations from the founder
of a laboratory animal breeding concern, Rowan could have
been influenced to “buy” a survey favorable to the animal
suppliers’ interests. This elaborately constructed theory has
so many holes it is hard to know where to begin pointing
them out.
Anybody who has even passing familiarity with
university structure should be well aware, to cite a parallel
example, that because the University of California at Davis
receives very large sums of money from animal agribusiness
does not then mean that faculty member Dr. Ned
Buyukhmihci, cofounder of the Association of Veterinarians
for Animal Rights, is secretly serving their interests. One
needs at least some evidence before making such a leap.
Second, the grants committee of the Parks Trust consists of
five other persons, in addition to Rowan, who represent
animal welfare and animal rights organizations. Since all
decisions are made at an annual meeting, presumably they
too would have been part of the conspiracy. Third, the
notion that anybody could buy Merritt Clifton’s opinion is
the most outrageous claim of all. Clifton is controversial
and a number of activists disagree with some of his positions
and articles, sometimes strongly. But even those who have
been strongly criticized by Clifton agree that it is just not
possible to buy him. Finally, if one reads Clifton’s report
on pet theft, he actually parts with Mary Warner only on a
matter of degree. Warner insists that more than two million
dogs and cats are stolen per year. Clifton found that the
actual number is a still appalling 800,000, and that about
600,000 of these animals end up in research and educational
institutions while most of the rest are victims of individual
sadistic abuse.
Reitman also gets her history wrong. The success-
ful campaign for the passage of the Pet Theft Act of 1990
should be a central element in any book that deals with pet
theft. Unfortunately, it gets scant treatment, and the few
pages devoted to the law are filled with inaccuracies. For
example, Reitman implies that a key figure behind the pas-
sage of the act was Mary Warner. Most people familiar with
the issue would agree that Mary Warner has run a tireless
crusade to deal with pet theft, but she was only one person
among many individuals and organizations who worked for
the passage of the act. The author’s talent for innuendo and
inference is demonstrated by her statement that, “Senator
Ford’s files bulged with documentation on pet theft…The
figures presented to Congress came from a lady in Virginia
who had started a citizens’ network to battle nationwide pet
theft. Ford told legislators, ‘Few people in this country
know more about pet theft than Mary Warner.’”
It is true that few people know more about pet theft
than Mary Warner. It is also true that her data was submitted
to Senator Ford (by representatives of the American Humane
Association, because to my knowledge, Mary Warner did
not lobby Congress in person). However, the inference that
Warner’s data led to the passage of the Pet Theft Act is with-
out foundation. Senator Ford’s filing cabinets were bulging
with information submitted by the AHA, Massachusetts
SPCA, and Humane Society of the U.S., whose lobbyists
along with those of other organizations did the vital ground-
work among Congressional staff that lies behind and is
essential for the passage of any piece of legislation. Finally,
all those who actually lobbied for the bill knew that Mary
Warner’s material was not in a form that was suitable for
submission to Congress, and thus her statistics and stories
had at best minimal impact upon either Congress or others
involved in the campaign.
Today, pets are still being stolen. Numerous
unscrupulous individuals continue to profit off the brokering
and suffering of these thousands of animals. We are in need
of a serious investigative report on pet theft, that goes
beyond old newspaper stories and tabloid scenarios to fully
examine the economic incentives and bureaucratic inadequa-
cies that allow this criminal trade to continue. Ms. Reitman
has not provided this much needed book.
––Adele Douglass
[Adele Douglass, Washington D.C. director for the
AHA, coordinated the campaign for the passage of the Pet
Theft Act, and continues to lobby for effective enforcement.]
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