RETURN OF THE PET THIEVES
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2000:
NASHVILLE, MUNCIE, KALAMAZOO, FLINT––Missing dog reports reminiscent of the bad old days of roundups for laboratory use flooded animal shelter telephone lines and Internet chat boards between Thanksgiving 1999 and mid-January 2000 in at least three midwestern and southern regions linked by Interstate Highways 64, 65, and 69.
The first burst of theft reports fitting the pattern came in Maury County, Tennessee, south of Nashville. Almost all of the missing animals were reportedly purebreds.
After Christmas came 30 alleged thefts in southwestern Indiana.
“Red flags started going up,” said Evansville Courier & Press staff writer Judy Davis, when Gibson County Animal Services director Cindy Hyneman realized that, ‘All of the dogs’ descriptions matched––large, shorthaired, friendly dogs.’”
Some Gibson County owners heard their dogs bark and saw the getaway truck.
“We’ve had enough reports of a suspicious vehicle to release a description,” Hyneman told Davis. “We’re asking people to watch for a red pickup––heavy, probably a three-quarter-ton, with loud exhaust. Some witnesses saw a white dog box in the back.”
Almost simultaneously, 25 dogs were allegedly stolen in and around Muncie, in midstate Indiana. But those dogs were “mostly small purebreds,” wrote Kristina Buchthal of the Indianapolis Star.
At least four of the missing Muncie dogs later ambled home. Muncie Animal Shelter director Gayle Workman accurately cautioned media that pet theft panics often occur because pet owners prefer to blame anyone and everyone but themselves when unattended animals go astray. Frequently the strays do turn up alive and well; many others are roadkilled, or are killed by coyotes. During the same weeks, a panic over coyote predation on pets was underway in Ohio.
But as the alleged Muncie thefts drew publicity, scattered allegations of pet theft came from other parts of Indiana, including Elkhart, near the Michigan border.
Soon afterward came an explosion of dog theft reports from between Kalamazoo and Muskegon, Michigan, and––130 miles to the northeast––Flint, Michigan.
The 20 dogs allegedly stolen from three counties surrounding Kalamazoo were mostly large, friendly purebreds, according to Sergeant Wayne Polomcak of the Van Buren County Sheriff’s Department.
Reported J.L. Thornell for the Kalamazoo Gazette, “The thieves may be driving a white full-sized van labeled ‘Animal Management,’ or a white Ranger pickup truck with a cap that resembles trucks used by county animal control officials, Polomcak said.”
Such vehicles were often used by laboratory animal suppliers before vigorous USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service enforcement of the 1990 Pet Theft Act amendments to the Animal Welfare Act in 1992-1993. Such reports have been scarce in recent years, however. Flint police tentatively linked the thefts in that area to dogfighting, especially after a January 12 incident in which a man in a van forcibly took a young pit bull terrier from a female pedestrian.
Dogfighting rings are known to be active in both the Flint and Muncie areas. An early January investigation of an alleged dogstabbing incident in Flint reportedly resulted in the seizure of three dead pit bulls, seven live pit bulls, and a stash of illegal drugs. It was the fourth dogfighting-related bust in the Flint area in under two years. But Flint authorities have had a hard time making charges stick against alleged dogfighters because of the reluctance of witnesses to testify.
In November 1999, for instance, Luther W. Burrage Jr., 27, of Flint, drew just 90 days in jail plus probation on one count of dogfighting. Burrage was first charged with obstruction of justice, extortion, and aggravated stalking––the latter for allegedly threatening and trying to strangle witness Renee Holmes. Holmes, identified by Paul Janczewski of the Flint Journal as Burrage’s ex-girlfriend, then refused to testify against Burrage, forcing the prosecution to take a plea bargain instead of seeking convictions that could have jailed Burrage for up to 25 years.
In Anderson, Indiana, just south of Muncie, police in late October brought felony dogfighting charges against William A. Washington, 21; Charles A. Kilgore, 23; and Thomas A. Rayford, 20.
“Kilgore was out of jail on bond awaiting trial on a charge of dealing marijuana,” Ron Wilkins of the Anderson H e r a l d Bulletin reported.
I-65, one apparent axis of the recent alleged dog theft cases, starts in Chicago. A six-month series of raids by Chicago police and animal control officers between May and October 1999 reportedly broke up dogfights in 22 of the 25 Chicago police precincts, nabbing 25 human suspects and 217 fighting dogs.
But all the busts didn’t begin to stop dogfighting. In early December, wildlife photographers found a dogfighting training center set up within the Poplar Creek Forest Preserve.
Dogfighting arrests are getting bigger and coming more often across the U.S. and Canada. Many suspects are juveniles, with slim resources, but others may have drug money––like nine men, ages 22- 35, who were arrested last October at an alleged dogfight in Lamar, South Carolina. Seized were eight pit bulls, 18.9 grams of crack cocaine, 155 grams of marijuana, and $4,585 in cash.
Similar seizures came at a November 20 raid on the supposed “Super Bowl of dogfighting” at Jesup, Georgia, resulting in at least 60 arrests. Twenty pit bulls were seized.
Operations of that size may well be able to emulate the style and scale of the old laboratory supply pet theft operations. Dogfighters are known to steal not only potential fighting animals, such as pit bulls and Rottweilers, but also smaller and less aggressive dogs, cats, and sometimes other kinds of animals for use as live training lures.
Animal theft for laboratory use may also be resurging, however, after seemingly ceasing for almost five years––or so the ANIMAL PEOPLE pet theft case log would indicate, largely because of the February 1999 conviction of Oregon animal dealer Betty Gayle Davis, 49, and eight confederates for allegedly stealing 300 dogs by fraudulently answering free-to-good-home ads. Most of the thefts apparently occurred in 1997 and 1998.
Although theft for lab use was suspected in other cases, the Davis case was the first known to ANIMAL PEOPLE since 1993 in which lab supply was a confirmed motive.
Not clear is where any new demand for stolen dogs may be coming from. Random-source dogs are no longer used much for either basic research or product safety testing, because uncertain genetic history is now known to compromise investigations of conditions which may have a genetic component.
Practice surgery is the longtime chief use of random-source dogs, but dog labs are fast falling out of favor. On January 17, for instance, the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine halted all lethal procedures on animals in first-year classes and stopped using random-source animals entirely.
The University of Minnesota/Duluth School of Medicine announced in December 1999 that it would no longer use any randomsource dogs, and earlier in 1999 both the University of Missouri at Columbia and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey/Robert Wood Johnson Medical School at New Brunswick quit holding dog labs.
On January 27 the trend spread at least provisionally to the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. University veterinarian in charge of animal welfare David Neil suspended use of animals from the Edmonton city pound after his staff and Edmonton SPCA personnel used microchip scanning to find three missing pets in a week among dogs delivered to the university for medical research and/or surgery practice.
“As far as we’re concerned, we’re at the end of the line,” said Neil. The university reportedly received about 700 dogs in 1999. Dogs deemed adoptable by the university handlers were relayed on to the SPCA––which is how the microchipped dogs were found.
Acting Edmonton Police Service Animal Control Pound director Doug Collinson pledged to improve pound dog identification procedures.
The University of British Columbia and University of Calgary already ceased using random-source animals some years ago.
Pet Theft Act
The most recent available USDA data indicates that U.S. laboratories are now using barely a third as many dogs, including those bred especially for lab use, as in 1979, when post-Animal Welfare Act dog usage peaked at 211,000 a year.
The all-time peak is believed to have been as high as 500,000 a year, circa 1964, nine years before the passage of the AWA.
Taking effect in January 1992, the 1990 Pet Theft Act amended the AWA by requiring all sellers of animals to federally funded institutions to record the source and disposal of each animal they receive.
Invoking the Pet Theft Act, the USDA in February 1993 acted upon information supplied by ANIMAL PEOPLE to halt the traffic in random-source dogs and cats from bunchers in Canada, putting four U.S. animal dealers permanently out of business.
That was just the first of a series of hits against long suspected dealers.
Missisippi animal dealer Jerry Vance, made notorious by a 1993 episode of the CBS news magazine program Eye To Eye With Connie Chung, was in February 1994 fined $25,000, of which $20,000 was suspended on condition that he not violate the Animal Welfare Act again before 2014.
A month later, the USDA put Wisconsin animal dealer Ervin Stebane permanently out of business. The USDA proceedings were already underway, although the charges had not yet been filed, when a botched sting operation orchestrated by Last Chance For Animals founder Chris DeRose made Stebane nationally notorious.
In August 1994, the Pet Theft Act gave the USDA the tool it needed to win a seven-year series of legal battles against Oregon animal dealers James Hickey and his wife Shannon Hansen, who were fined $10,000 and barred from selling animals until 2004. Along the way, two of their associates, David Harold Stephens and Brenda Arlene Linville, were sentenced to 10 months and eight months respectively in federal prsion, for alleged illegal conspiracy to steal dogs.
The USDA momentum was broken on April 19, 1995, when the bombing of the federal offices in Oklahoma City killed Midwest Stolen Dog Task force chief Richard Cummins, 56, plus six of his staff, injuring three others and destroying their records. Federal budget cuts also crippled the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
But the dead inspectors posthumously won their biggest case of all the day after the bombing, when Iowa dog dealers Julian and Anita Toney were put out of business and fined $200,000. The Toneys fought the case under appeal for two more years, but won only a reduction of the fine to $175,000.
One controversial dealer not caught with stolen dogs was C.C. Baird, of Williford, Arkansas, who has been repeatedly cited by the USDA for other Animal Welfare Act violations, and was subject of an extensive expose by John Hamen of the Arkansas Times i n 1995. Baird now sells dogs to the University of Oregon veterinary school. Students Lourdes Jovel and Sommer Chambers plus non-student Lisa Smith of Corvallis protested the contract in mid-January by locking themselves into wire cages near the student union building and fasting for 80 hours. At least five students were arrested two weeks later for locking themselves into the office of vet school dean Kelvin Koong.
Whatever is happening in Indiana, Michigan, and other places with reported pet theft clusters, pet theft surged in 1999.
The ANIMAL PEOPLE pet theft logs, abstracted below, now cover five distinct epochs in dog-and-cat theft: the decade prior to the introduction of the failed 1988 Pet Protection Act, coinciding with the rise of the animal rights movement, which made pet theft a central issue; the period between 1988 and the coming into effect of the Pet Theft Act, when pet theft continued to have a high public profile; the first two years of USDA Pet Theft Act enforcement; the five-year lull from 1994 through 1998; and the 1999 surge.
The “Perps” column below lists the number of alleged dog-and-cat thieves identified by law enforcement: as many in 1999 as in the previous five years combined.
“Conv” lists those known to have been convicted: also more in 1999 than in the preceding five years. The outcome of many cases, especially those involving juveniles, is not known to us.
Of the 334 thefts for laboratory use during 1988-1991, 330 were committed by just eight professional suppliers. Like the nine persons convicted in the 1999 Davis case, they mostly used “free-to-good-home” fraud.
Of the 106 thefts for sadistic abuse during 1998-1991, 77 were cats stolen by just one perpetrator, Mitchell Munoz of Atlanta, who was convicted in 1990 and sentenced to serve eight years in prison.
Fifty animals were allegedly stolen for sadistic abuse in 1994-1998 by Sandra L. Archer and Mark W. Williams of Omaha.
Munoz, Archer, and Williams also reportedly obtained animals mostly by “freeto-good-home” fraud.
At least two other cases created bulges in the numbers:
• Of the 81 thefts for sadistic abuse recorded in 1992-1993, 45 were allegedly stolen by a single dogfighting ring whose identities were never disclosed by police.
• Of the 50 thefts by would-be rescuers in 1992-1993, 47 involved dogs seized from former Class B dealer Ervin Stebane as result of the failed LCA sting. Stebane won a court order for their return before the USDA finally shut him down for good.
ANIMAL PEOPLE speculated in October 1997, after a series of large-scale exotic bird and reptile thefts, that as theft of pets for resale to laboratories has declined, some semi-professional pet thieves might have turned toward other markets.
We obtained information about just 14 parrot thefts in 1994, 14 more in 1995, and another 14 in 1996––although one of the 1996 incidents involved 4,000 total birds––but the number of parrot theft cases soared to 153 in 1997 and 165 in 1998. In 1999, however, we learned of only 60 parrot thefts.
Pet reptile theft cases have remained contrastingly steady: 42 in 1996, no data kept in 1997, 46 cases in 1998, and 41 in 1999.
Years Perps Conv Animals Dogs Cats Labs Sadism Rescue Ransom Other/Unk.
1978/1987 8 0 50 49 1 45 2 1 2 0
1988/1991 40 18 452 300 152 334 106 7 2 3
1992/1993 33 11 220 193 27 77 81 50 2 10
1994/1998 108 13 246 219 27 0 91 19 26 110