Who, age What Where When Last Known Address

Jasen Shaw and Vanessa Shaw

DBA US Global Exotics

26,400 exotics seized, 600 found dead

Arlington, TX

Tarrant County

December 9, 2009 New Zealand
Type of Crime Other Crimes #/Type of animal(s) involved Case Status Next Court Date
   

Tarantula spiders, tiny frogs, kinkajous, sloths, aquatic turtles, pythons, other snakes, iguana's, lizards, spiders, crabs, sugar gliders, hedgehogs, hamsters, wallabies and prairie dogs

on appeal  

Roughly 20,000 exotic animals were seized by Arlington Animal Services from a warehouse that sold the animals to customers all over the world though the Internet, officials said.

The seizure is being considered the largest ever animal seizures in the United States, officials said.

Tarantula spiders, kinkajous, sloths, turtles, snakes and other animals were hauled off from the U.S. Global Exotics facility in an industrial park on Oakmeed Drive in northeast Arlington after Animal Services officials obtained a warrant to search the site. Federal officials, conducting an unrelated investigation at the business, tipped Arlington officials about the animals.

This wasn't a pet shop, said Jay Sabatucci, an Arlington Animal Services manager. This was a multimillion-dollar business. It was cheaper for him to let them die than to have someone take care of them.

The animals confiscated are being placed in an undisclosed location where they can be cared for and housed in their natural habitat. So far, authorities estimated the cost of removal and relocation at about $100,000. The Humane Society of North Texas and the SPCA of Texas are assisting Arlington officials in the case.

Cruelty to animal charges have not been filed; however, authorities plan to ask a city judge to take permanent custody of the animals.

U.S. Global Exotics is owned by Jasen Shaw and Vanessa Shaw, according to the company s website. It is licensed with the United States Department of Agriculture, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife, according to the company s website.

This is one of the most heart-breaking things. I saw hundreds of deceased iguanas and stopped counting at 200, said Maura Davies, spokeswoman for the North Texas division of SPCA. There were at least a dozen more.

Because of overcrowding in some of the pens and cages, some animals started eating each other, Davies said.

This is not the first time that the company has been in the news.

In June 2003, Shaw was asked by an Agriculture Department agent to delay the shipment of prairie dogs, after one of the animals was infected with monkey pox. Authorities at the time believed the disease came from a shipment of African rats that was sent to an animal dealer in Chicago. The infections led to a rash of cases in the Midwest.

Shortly afterward, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention banned the sale and transport of prairie dogs, fueling a national debate on whether they should be sold as pets.

Update 12/16/09:  A veterinary technician affiliated with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals worked undercover for seven months at U.S. Global Exotics, where he documented the mistreatment and deaths of animals, Arlington officials said

The PETA insider, interviewed by Arlington animal welfare officials, detailed what he observed at the Internet-based exotic-animal wholesaler in the 1000 block of Oakmead Drive. He provided photos and videos, officials said.

Arlington Animal Services, along with the Humane Society of North Texas and the SPCA, raided the business and seized an estimated 26,400 animals, ranging from tiny frogs and turtles to larger sloths and kinkajous.

Workers, who said the smell of death inside the one-story tan building was overwhelming, also removed hundreds of carcasses.

According to an affidavit released by the city, on Dec. 9 agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department seized documents and computers related to an investigation of whether animals bought and sold by the business were falsely identified or labeled in violation of federal code.

The federal agents asked Arlington Animal Services officials to investigate whether animals at the warehouse were being treated cruelly, and later on Dec. 9, city workers interviewed the informant, according to the affidavit.

Among the animals that were alive were lizards, a variety of snakes, spiders and crabs, as well as sugar gliders, sloths, hedgehogs and prairie dogs, officials said. The animals, some quite valuable, have been taken to undisclosed locations for care.

A court hearing will be scheduled within 10 days to determine who gets custody of them, said Jay Sabatucci, Arlington Animal Services manager.

No one was arrested, but Sabatucci s office is conducting an animal-cruelty investigation that could result in felony charges, he said.

A sign on the door of the business stated: "Not open to the public. No wholesale walk in sales at any time."

The privately held business was incorporated in 2003 and has customers in more than 20 countries.  Jasen Shaw, a native of New Zealand, has been importing and exporting exotic animals for more than 11 years, the site says.

The affidavit also says:

A day before the raid, the undercover tech told Arlington officials that he documented the deaths of 85 reptiles and said he saw another log that recorded the deaths of 218 yellow-belly turtles the same day.

From Dec. 7 to 11, the tech reported the deaths of 85 mammals and 67 reptiles. The deaths were related to illness, cruel confinement and/or lack of food.

Some of the animals, such as hamsters and prairie dogs, had started eating one another because of overcrowding and lack of food. Others died from disease or, in the case of some ball pythons, were crushed by the weight of other pythons in their holding trough.

About 5,000 aquatic turtles were confined in cardboard boxes from Nov. 27 to Dec. 10 without food or water.

Approximately 10 2-liter bottles, the size of a soda bottle, were filled with about 50 live frogs each without food or water.

An injured hedgehog separated from other hedgehogs Dec. 10 died four days later without any veterinary care.

The undercover worker has 15 years experience as a veterinary technician, the affidavit states.

Update 12/22/09:  Another 1,000 animals seized from a north Arlington exotic pet dealer have died, in addition to 600 found dead at the facility, according to testimony in Arlington Municipal Court.

In the second day of an administrative hearing to determine custody of the animals, experts testified that the more than 26,000 animals housed there lacked food and water, medical care and appropriate environments.  And the company's handful of employees would not have been able to care for that number of animals, two veterinarians said.  Such conditions amount to cruelty, they said.

"It is my understanding there were three people taking care of over 26,000 animals. This is completely impossible. There isn't time in a 24-hour day to do that," said Dr. Janet Martin, one of the vets brought in by the city to care for the seized animals.

Martin, who oversees care for the mammals taken from U.S. Global Exotics, said 5 wallabies at the facility were loose in a room where bedding material had been thrown on a tile floor. The room was filled with feces and flies, Martin said. The only food in the room was moldy carrots.  Martin also said that all of the animals tested so far had parasite infestations.

But an attorney representing the pet dealer stressed that the facility was a temporary holding site and that the containers in which the animals were housed were appropriate for the short term.

Lance Evans, the attorney representing the company's owners, Jasen and Vanessa Shaw, said that the animals were captured in the wild and could have arrived with the infestations. The Shaws did not attend the hearing.

Evans also said that the company is a wholesaler and that the animals were kept in temporary housing that was never intended to imitate their natural settings.

He also questioned whether the stress of transporting the animals from the business to their current location may have contributed to the deaths of the additional 1,000 animals, especially the temperature-sensitive reptiles and amphibians that were moved on a cold day.

"Two hundred a day since you guys seized them with 24 people caring for them 12 hours a day?" Evans asked. "You've got more dead in five days than the total you had when you went in there."

Dr. Timothy Tristan, a veterinarian brought in by the city to assess the health of other animals, said it was his opinion that the animals that died after being removed from the company had succumbed to the effects of chronic neglect, not the move. At least 80 of them were euthanized.

Tristan said many of the animals at the business were already being kept at inappropriate temperatures, including some iguanas and snakes kept in areas at least 40 degrees below what they require to function.

His testimony was illustrated with photos of large spiders in tiny plastic containers with no food or water. Tristan said that some of the spiders couldn't stretch their legs in the tight quarters and that some venomous spiders had pushed the tops off of containers and were loose in the building.

He also showed photos of plastic soda bottles filled with up to 50 tree frogs that also lacked food or water.

Testimony continues on whether the animals are to be returned to the Shaws or remain in city custody.

  (Photo courtesy of Kelly Chinn/Star-Telegram)  Chinchillas are among the thousands of animals confiscated from U.S. Global Exotics in December because of unsatisfactory living conditions.

  (Photo courtesy of Kelly Chinn/Star-Telegram)   Workers removed more than 27,000 animals from U.S. Global Exotics in north Arlington during a Dec. 15 raid.

Update 12/30/09:  A Fort Worth Zoo employee who bought and sold animals for himself at U.S. Global Exotics testified that he never saw animals being mistreated at the north Arlington business.    Mike Doss, who was not representing the zoo, disputed the testimony of witnesses for Arlington that the business improperly housed animals and denied them food, water and veterinarian care.

"I was impressed," Doss said of what he saw during regular visits to the business since 2006 to buy animals or sell those he had raised at home.  "They obviously invested a lot of money in their caging systems and how they took care of their animals."

Doss, who cares for coldblooded land animals at the zoo, said there are several plausible reasons why some of the snakes, lizards and turtles seized from the business appeared emaciated or sick. Most animals caught in the wild are not screened for illnesses or parasites before they are shipped to distributors, and the travel itself or exposure to a new environment can affect animals’ appetites, he said.

He concurred with testimony from U.S. Global employees that it is not unusual or inhumane to force hibernation for certain animals, such as lizards and turtles, by keeping them in low temperatures or to not feed animals before shipping so they don’t bloat or regurgitate during transport.

City investigators have testified that some animals were not fed for weeks at a time and that the company did not have enough food to care for the number of animals in stock.

Doss said he is also concerned about whether animal welfare officers harmed some of the temperature-sensitive animals during the raid, which occurred on a day that the high temperature was 44.  "I thought it was horrible to drag coldblooded animals out of a warm building on such a cold day," Doss said. "The shock of the temperature change could have killed them alone."

More than 1,000 animals have died since the seizure, but animal welfare workers attribute those deaths to the effects of neglect at the business, not the move. City attorneys said the vehicles used to take the animals to their temporary home were climate-controlled.

Doss testified that some of the conditions shown in photographs and videos during the hearing did appear to be inhumane or inappropriate, including photos of hundreds of baby turtles being stored in boxes, hundreds of iguanas that died after being left in shipping crates without food or water for two weeks, and footage of an employee shaking tree frogs out of the narrow opening of a plastic soft drink bottle. Doss said he does not condone U.S. Global’s method of euthanizing animals by placing them in a freezer to die.

However, Doss said, he was concerned that some of the situations might have been staged by former employee Howard Goldman, who took some of the photos.

Goldman, the city’s key witness, testified last week that PETA had asked him to apply for a job at U.S. Global Exotics to investigate conditions there.

PETA paid Goldman $135 for each day he turned in a report while working as a snake caretaker for seven months.

Doss said he discovered during a visit that Goldman had mislabeled some snakes as indigo snakes, an incident he now finds suspicious because those are an endangered species that U.S. Global does not have a permit to have.

Attorneys for U.S. Global Exotics were admonished by the judge for trying to have Goldman arrested.  A private investigator apparently working for attorney Lance Evans called 911 from court to report that Goldman had admitted under oath that he was operating as a private investigator without a license, a violation of state law. Officers arrived at the court to investigate, but Goldman was not arrested.

Linda Frank, an attorney for Arlington, said she was disappointed that U.S. Global’s attorneys would try to have a witness arrested to gain an edge during the civil hearing.

Smith is expected to decide custody of the animals, mostly reptiles soon.

Update 12/31/09:  An unusual municipal court animal-custody hearing ended with attorneys trading harsh words in closing arguments.

Arlington was "suckered" by "a radical interest group," said Lance Evans, attorney for the owners of U.S. Global Exotics.

Not so, an attorney for the city said: A north Arlington warehouse where more than 26,000 animals were seized was a "death camp."

The administrative hearing before Municipal Judge Michael Smith lasted seven days.

Evans said PETA fabricated reports of animal cruelty at the business as part of its mission to shut down the entire exotic-pet industry.

The PETA investigator, Howard Goldman, testified early in the hearing that animals were kept in cramped dirty cages and often went weeks without food or clean water.  Goldman said sick or injured animals were denied care and left to die or were killed by being placed in a freezer.

Evans called Goldman’s accusations "ludicrous."  The Shaws had nothing to gain financially by killing the animals they were trying to sell to pet stores, zoos and other animal distributors, Evans said.  It was apparent, Evans said, that Goldman was so busy secretly taking photos and videos that he neglected the duties the Shaws had hired him to handle.

"The city of Arlington was duped, was suckered into this case by a radical special-interest group," Evans said. "What PETA is trying to do through the city is get a ruling that per se an entire industry is illegal because the industry cannot operate without cruelty to animals."

Linda Frank, an attorney for Arlington, said the city was focused only on stopping animal cruelty at U.S. Global Exotics, not on shutting down the industry.  She described the Oakmead Drive business as a "death camp" where animals crushed or ate one another because of overcrowding or died a slow death from untreated illness or neglect.

"These owners, on their watch, allowed this cruel treatment to occur," Frank said. "It was not possible for the city to turn their back, to turn a blind eye, to merely walk away and leave this facility as it existed at the time this warrant was requested."  Frank said the city did not base the seizure only on PETA’s documents.

City employees inspected the facility Dec. 9 after a U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent reported possible inhumane conditions there.

The federal agency is apparently investigating the accuracy of health certificates provided for exported animals and has seized many of the company’s records, Evans said.

The Shaws, who have been in New Zealand on vacation, did not attend the hearing.

Evans argued that many of the deaths could have been caused by conditions the animals had before being caught in the wild and shipped to U.S. Global.

He said he was alarmed to learn that nearly 4,000 of the company’s animals have died in city custody.  According to records provided to Smith by the city, 3,627 reptiles and 293 small mammals have died since the raid.

The animals are being cared for at an undisclosed location by workers with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and other animal organizations.

"I want an investigation. I believe the seize was more dangerous than any alleged conditions they have been in," Evans said. "I believe the conduct of the city and PETA in the seizure of these animals have endangered their health."

James Bias, president of the SPCA of Texas, said most of the animals are now thriving with food, water and proper climate-controlled housing but many were too ill to be saved. He said hundreds of animals are receiving daily vet care for ailments and he expects the death toll will continue rising.

“When you’re dealing with reptiles and small mammals in that quantity, it would not be surprising to see a potential mortality rate close to 50 percent when the dust settles,” he said. “It would have been much higher if the animals were left in that facility.”

PETA has pledged $200,000 for the care of the animals, which included providing transportation and lodging for animal experts that were brought in from around the world to assess the health of the animals.

Goldman spent months documenting systemic neglect, including being repeatedly ignored when he approached the Shaws with requests for food or medical care he said was necessary for the animals.

Update 1/6/10:  A municipal judge ruled that more than 27,000 animals taken from U.S. Global Exotics during a raid last month were being cruelly treated and should not be returned to their owners.

Municipal Judge Michael Smith found that owners Jasen and Vanessa Shaw did not provide adequate care for the hundreds of exotic species housed at their north Arlington export business, resulting in unnecessary injury, illness or death of animals.

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

The Shaws have 10 days to appeal the decision in Tarrant County court. The couple’s attorney, Lance Evans, said that he anticipates that they will.  "While I respect the hard work that Judge Smith put into this case, I disagree with his ruling.

Arlington has not incurred expenses for the animals’ care and did not seek a financial judgment against U.S. Global or the Shaws. SPCA of Texas officials say they are spending $8,000 to $10,000 a day for the animals and would appreciate donations, spokeswoman Maura Davies said. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has reportedly pledged at least $200,000.

If Arlington retains custody after all appeals are exhausted, the city will transfer ownership to the SPCA of Texas, which has been caring for the animals since the Dec. 15 raid. The SPCA will then work to find permanent homes for the animals, which are mostly wild-caught reptiles, Davies said.  "None of the animals would be available for adoption. The SPCA would place the animals with reputable organizations such as zoos and sanctuaries to ensure they do not go back into the pet trade business or are not released in the wild," Davies said.

Although U.S. Global’s animal inventory has been seized, the city did not seek a ruling to stop the business from operating. It is unclear whether the Internet-based business, which imported and exported exotic animals primarily for pet stores, zoos and other animal distributors, will reopen.

"Even though the Shaws are legally entitled to stay in business, PETA has dealt them a crippling blow in this seizure of their inventory. It remains to be seen whether they can survive this blow," Evans said.

The city has not determined whether animal cruelty charges will be filed, said Mike Bass, community services assistant director.

Judge Smith based his ruling on the following:  1.  The facility was severely understaffed. U.S. Global had only three caretakers at the time of the raid, and not all rooms where animals were housed had a designated caretaker. Experts who testified at the seven-day custody hearing said 20 to 40 people would be needed to care for that many animals.

2.  The animals were subjected to poor air quality. Many witnesses described the overwhelming "stench of death" and strong smell of urine inside the building.

3.  Many animals, including those that were solitary by nature, were kept in overcrowded conditions that led to stress, fighting, injuries, the spread of disease and cannibalism.

4.  Many animals were deprived of food, water, clean bedding and heat. For example, 414 iguanas were left in shipping crates for about two weeks without food or water because of a canceled order. About half died.

The court did not find conclusive evidence of cruel treatment in the deaths of 600 animals whose carcasses were found during the raid, nor did it support U.S. Global Exotic’s attorney’s view that the city was responsible for the deaths of 4,000 more that died in city custody.  City and animal welfare officials said the animals were too sick to be saved.

Update 1/15/10:  The owners of U.S. Global Exotics notified the Arlington Municipal Court on that they plan to appeal a ruling that gave custody of more than 27,000 animals to the city.

Lance Evans filed the notice and said the Shaws believe that the city should return any animals it could not prove were cruelly treated. "The Shaws believe the evidence presented by the city of Arlington was insufficient as a matter of law to require forfeiture of the animals," Evans said. "We’re very concerned that PETA has been allowed to take over a branch of government in order to further its agenda, which is basically the end of the exotic pet trade." Smith has five days to send transcripts of the hearing to Tarrant County court, said Linda Frank, a city attorney.

Update 1/16/10:  U.S. Global Exotics has not reopened since the Dec. 15 raid, and the attorney for the owners, Jasen and Vanessa Shaw, filed a notice of appeal for custody of the animals.

The USDA, which inspects only the care of warmblooded animals, found no violations at U.S. Global the past three years, according to the agency. However, that agency has no jurisdiction over reptiles and amphibians, which made up the bulk of U.S. Global’s inventory.

U.S. Global is reportedly being investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which seized the company’s records Dec. 9. It was one of their agents who contacted the city of Arlington about possible animal cruelty, leading to the Dec. 15 raid.  The agency declined to comment on the investigation and would not say whether U.S. Global still had a valid license.

Petland Lewisville, as well as the Fort Worth and Dallas zoos and the Dallas World Aquarium, bought animals from U.S. Global. Other major pet stores, such as PetSmart or Petco, did not buy animals from the company.

Nika Earling, an assistant manager at Petland Lewisville, said her employees were shocked by what they heard. Her employees said the animals from the company appeared healthy and well-treated.  "Whenever you go down there you don’t see any of that," Earling said.

Remekca Owens, spokeswoman for the Fort Worth Zoo, said the zoo checks to make sure its suppliers have the appropriate licenses before buying from them.  "What we rely on is regulation through governmental agencies. They have always checked out," Owens said. "The situation that was uncovered there was not our experience."

Suzette Stidom, the owner of S&S Exotic Animals in Houston, said she hopes people realize not all businesses in the pet trade are equal.  "I hate to hear about cases like this. It’s just a big mess for those of us who like to do things right," said Stidom, whose store has been open 13 years.

Stidom said her business works hard to keep everything clean and has a veterinarian check out the animal inventory monthly and examine every animal before it is shipped out.  Some of her animals are sold over the Internet, but her store is also open for people to come in and physically see and hold the animals before purchasing them.  "To maintain a good business, you have to treat the animals right. To me, its more about the animals than it is about making a dollar," Stidom said.

Louis Dorfman works at the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary in Boyd, northwest of Fort Worth, which cares for big cats and bears that have either been confiscated from their owners or have been orphaned.  Dorfman said he believes it’s more appropriate to go after those who mistreat animals, not the animal industry as a whole.  "This story has been repeated a number of times. It just happens to be a little bit bigger than some of the others," he said. "There are animals being seized all the time."

Exotic animals U.S. Global Exotics in Arlington supplied animals primarily to pet stores, zoos and animal distributors. Its price list wasn’t available, but here is a sampling of how much some of its animal inventory would sell for at other places.

Baby sugar gliders $125 -$175;  Baby hedgehogs $90-$160;  Reticulated pythons $125-$300;  Two-toed sloth $2,000 and Adult kinkajous $1,000-$1,200

Reference:

Star Telegram