Yesterday's Inquirer featured a front page story I wrote about a central Pennsylvania couple who pleaded guilty in federal court to illegally selling dogs for research.
Floyd and Susan Martin of Shippensburg were among the last of the so-called Class B "random source" dealers licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to collect dogs from any source as long as it was properly documented. They were indicted in 2011 after a two-year-long multi-agency investigation.
The couple was not indicted for animal cruelty but for defrauding the government by making up sources for hundreds of dogs when in fact all the dogs came from two un-indicted co-conspirators, identified by prosecutors in court on Thursday as Park Cox and Daryl Secrest.
The two men have not yet been charged.
Investigations by animal welfare groups and federal and state inspection reports show that dog dealers like the Martins kept their animals in terrible conditions. But it is rarely the animal cruelty that brings them down, rather they get tripped up by improper paperwork. As Nancy Blaney, a senior policy advisor for the Animal Welfare Institute, put it: "It's like Al Capone getting busted for tax evasion."
But you can see from the images below - that were included in a USDA inspection and provided by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) -that there was certainly ample evidence of cruelty
Pennsylvania has a long, sordid history of dog dealing. The state was once rife with dog auctions (like those in Gilbertsville, Roots in Manheim and Green Dragon in Ephrata, Lancaster County - which still operates selling birds and small mammals) and "dog swaps," where shady characters would trade dogs for nefarious purposes.
The king of dog dealing for research was Sam Esposito, of Quakertown, who owned Quaker Farm kennels. He was known in the 1970s to travel as far away as Missouri with a tractor trailer to take dogs back East to be sold to the most prestigious research institutions in the nation.
Among the labs that bought dogs from the Martins as recently as 2009 were Johns Hopkins, Columbia University, Richmond VA Medical Center, New York Medical College, and Newark Beth Israel.
The dark world of random source dealing was first brought to public eye with the case of Pepper, stolen from her family's yard in northeastern Pennsylvania in 1965, and sold to a research lab in New York. Before her family was able to find her she had died while being used in an experiment for implanted pacemakers. The online news magazine Slate revisited Pepper's saga in 2010. (This article is a must read for anyone interested in the history of animal welfare.)
Images in a 1966 Life magazine article exposed conditions at a Maryland random source dealer that shocked the world was the final straw.
That year Congress passed the Animal Welfare Act, which set the first humane standards for animals used in research.