Webinar presenter Adam Leath answered a number of your questions after his presentation, The Retail Sale of Pets: What Investigative Agencies Need to Know. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: Adam what happened in the case you just described? Was there jail time? Was there a fine? What happened after the fact?
Adam Leath: In Florida, it is a point-based system. It really depends on the individual’s prior history with the criminal justice system. If they have very few points, they likely are not going to score any type of incarceration. In that particular situation, it was a fine and we asked for a no-contact order with the animals.
Audience Question: Why is the health of reptiles sold in reptile expos not regulated? Help us understand that one.
Adam Leath: I would argue that they are regulated. In fact, there are a number of places where you have ReptiCon and others where specifically even venomous species of reptiles are bought and sold to which do fall under the purview of the state enforcement agency that are involved in that. For instance, in Florida, we do have Repticon here in Daytona Beach from time to time. It’s the FWC, the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission that actually frequently go undercover in those situations to ensure that species that aren’t supposed to sold or possessed aren’t. In terms of the welfare side of it, our reptiles probably get the worst shake of it all. There isn’t a lot of enforcement when it comes to the welfare. It really is to the local jurisdiction when it comes to that.
Audience Question: Adam I have to admit that pet leasing is something that even I had not heard of. How widespread is this practice? Where are we seeing this practice taking place the most?
Adam Leath: I think the states as I described to have recently enacted legislation to prohibit it are obviously receiving more complaints. I really can’t say how widespread. Certainly, large retail chains that sell pets might have a number of locations throughout the United States. It may be a common practice for all of them. It may not necessarily be common for all pet stores within that state. We’re finding that it is becoming more and more common and becoming more widespread certainly as the need of the individuals who want to acquire pets and they don’t have the immediate financial resources to procure it end up using that as another alternative to really get a pet and ultimately are exploited for it.
Audience Question: Adam you used a couple of terms during your presentation today. If you can just clarify them for us. What is the difference between a search warrant and an affidavit?
Adam Leath: An affidavit is a written statement provided by a witness in a case. Affidavits are required most times in order to apply for a search warrant. Unless an officer sees the violation themselves, they will rely upon the sworn statements from witnesses who have witnessed the alleged crime as a basis for the application of the search warrant. A search warrant is required to search for and seize property pursuant to a criminal investigation. Citizens have the expectation of privacy and to be secure in their possessions, which is protected in the 4th amendment. Either consent has to be provided or a search warrant has to applied for and supported by oath of affidavit to search and seize personal property. The affidavits are the basis by which you document what took place and the search warrant is how you actually enter a property for the purposes of searching and retrieving items of evidence that are pertinent in your case.
Audience Question: You talked about the investigation of complaints from the public about either a pet store etc. Do you have any standard operating procedures or forms or advice even for documenting these complaints or documenting the evidence gathered?
Adam Leath: That’s a whole topic in of itself. Yes, the best way depends on where your calls are coming into. If that’s coming into a central location, if that’s a 911 dispatch or a dispatch within your organization, you would start there. Getting accurate information but it’s really investigative practices 101, collecting and objectively documenting what it is that you see in the very early stages and then just following the facts. You don’t know what the ultimate outcome of the case is going to be when you start it because you are just gathering the information. You follow one step at a time, one lead to another until you’ve exhausted all of those and then you look in the rearview mirror to determine if any of what you observed, what you documented or what you took into your possession, constitutes a crime.
Audience Question: Adam when you are getting ready to go on the scene, should you have other organizations lined up to help in that process? In other words, having organizations lined up to take possessions of the animals by specialists like rescue groups who can house the animals. Should you have all those things lined up as you are going into the facility?
Adam Leath: It’s a really great question and the answer is yes. Anytime that you are dealing with a number of species that you yourself, your organization, or your shelter cannot handle and when I say handle that varies depending upon the size of the organization but you should ensure that you have a plan before you begin. If you do go into that situation and the allegations are substantiated with what you see, and you have to take some type of action with some of the animals, that’s not the time to figure out what you’re going to do with them all when you seized them. You have to do that in the early stages. The best way to do that is to start now. Connect with your local and state resources because there are a lot of them. You can also reach out to other non-governmental organizations such as the ASPCA and others who have the expertise and the potential resources to help. Those organizations are going to require you to involve them early on. If you contact them from the crime scene and hope that they can help, you are greatly limiting the opportunity to do so.
Audience Question: Adam you talked about the retail sale of pets. What about the individuals who sell privately from their own pet litters like online as you mentioned? How do the laws that you describe apply in these situations? Does it end up becoming some sort of individual to individual, is it more or less a buyer beware situations that there’s very little agencies can do?
Adam Leath: It depends on your statute. For those that said that they have OCVI requirements for sale within their state, they already have a mechanism by which they can utilize. In Florida for instance, if anyone buys a pet from anyone else, they have to have a health certificate, if that’s a private individual if that’s a kennel or if that’s a breeder. You have to be careful because it depends on how your statute is worded. If they only regulate a sale, then it has to be a sale. If there is an adoption for instance, if someone goes down to the local SPCA and adopts a dog they might not get a health certificate. That’s not the same. If a rescue group is adopting out animals to individuals, that is a little different at least in my state. It really depends on how your state statute is worded.
Audience Question: Again talking about the sale of animals, how do these same things apply to rescuers?
Adam Leath: They may not at all apply to rescuers. It depends again on how your state statute is worded. If the adoption is also covered in your state statute then they would have to have an Official Certificate of Veterinary Inspection. If the sale is the only portion that is required, then they wouldn’t be regulated. It really boils down to specifically what your statute governs for the acts of individuals who are engaged in the buying and selling of animals are required to do.
Audience Question: Is there a documentation of the “drivers” who buy animals from the breeders like the one you described in that Missouri case? Is there a section of their vehicles, practices and as the van apparently slip through the crack, is this the way that they are getting around the law?
Adam Leath: Yes. In many situations, there are companies that can be contracted to just do the transport. Those are regulated as we talked about, and are supposed to be regulated. If they are transporting animals, depending on the species and how many, they could be required to have a USDA license. They, many times, do have licensure but oftentimes don’t get inspected often enough or if they have licensure, they may not necessarily be abiding by what the guidelines say until they know that there is an announced inspection coming. It really just depends on the circumstances of each individual situation. Typically the individual large corporations who were breeding and then selling, there is a whole lecture that we could talk about between class A and class B,, the two main ones that we talked about in this situation. Class A breeders are those individuals who breed their own animals and then they sell to what we refer to as class B. These are brokers. They can buy animals from anyone with a Class A all over the country. They don’t themselves breed these animals. They just broker them to other people. These are large locations where large numbers of animals are brought in from many different locations and then they are sold to a number of different customers around the country.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of The Retail Sale of Pets: What Investigative Agencies Need to Know.