The Last Chance For Animals Interview with Chris DeRose
Interviewed by Claudette Vaughan
Last Chance for Animals undercover investigations acquired over 72 hours of video surveillance footage at Baird's facility Martin Creek Kennels recently -- detailing overwhelming amounts of cruelty, abuse, neglect, and unsanitary conditions, which subsequently led to the USDA charging Baird with hundreds of counts of neglect of animals. LCA director, Chris De Rose speaks here to Claudette Vaughan
Q. Tell us about this latest court case Chris.
A. Last Change for Animals (LCA) recently busted the biggest case in history. This goes all the way back to 15 years ago. We got a call in Missouri that there's a lot of pet death going on in that area so we ended up investigating literally hundreds of places. Ultimately we achieved a dossier on mini Class B dealers. These people are people licenced by the US Agricultural department to steal your cat or your dog and turn around and sell them for experiments. Simply put, that's what a Class B dealer is. A Class A dealer is puppy mills and a Class C dealer is 'Show' animals.
LCA went to many of these dealers compounds where they kept these animals and because of that we were able to start eliminating who the biggest and most notorious Class B dealers were. We found two that particularly took our interest so we zeroed in on them. Right away we knew that the only way we could get evidence was to get someone infiltrated on the inside. We tried and we tried and we tried. Everybody knows everybody in these small little towns and the man that owned this compound was feared because he's a religious minister, owns his own church and proved to be ruthless, very wealthy and very heartless.
Q. How many animals were found at the compound?
A. At one point he had 1050 dogs alone. That's a lot of dogs.
Q. How does he do business? Does he answer ads or does he breed the dogs for research labs? Or does he steal them?
A. Most of them are stolen dogs but he doesn't go out there and do it himself. He buys them off what is called "Bunchers". We had one of our investigators go undercover and talk to a couple of Bunchers and then they sell the dogs to this guy, C.C.Baird. Between themselves they talked about selling the dogs so he knew they were stolen dogs. They also said that the agents of the USDA know what's going on but they don't do anything about it.
LCA already knew that. Finally we got someone undercover and the Bunchers provided us with some really valuable information.
After we got these guys talking, we needed more heavy duty footage and this is where we planted our investigator who worked on the premises for 5 and a half months.
Now we were able to get all the videos and documentation we needed. We put it into a folder, made a presentation with photographs, notes and 72 hours of video recording edited back to a one hour recording and we presented it to the highest investigative office in the land -- the Attorney's office. The US Attorney takes it and after we spoke to him for about 2 -- hours I had no idea what was going to happen. This big, big Southern guy was sitting at the end of the table and then he finally lifts his head up and looks at all of us and says, "If someone stole my dog, I'd shoot him fucking dead". And he slammed shut the book of the case we gave him and said, "I'll take the case".
So they investigate for little over a year, then come back to us, and then they do a raid on this facility.
Over 30 Federal agent vehicles converged on his property, coming from 7 different agencies. That was very powerful information they were able to ascertain. They took everything out of this facility that they could. They confiscated 145 dogs and one cat. That's what they could conveniently take as he had no proof of anything on him at this stage. So they took the 145 dogs, placed them into a very nice compound and eventually different organisations got them adopted out.
Q. What was the final verdict?
A. We were supposed to have gone to court late January, 2005 on civil charges as the perpetrator was being charged with 500 violations under the Animal Welfare Act. Then we find out the trial wasn't taking place because he and the Federal government had reached an agreement.
The agreement came down to this: He had to pay over one quarter of a million dollars in fines plus another $12,700 because he was in violation of a former order, plus he lost his licence, his wife lost her licence, their two daughters lost their licences -- so there you have 4 US revoked licences at one time. Remember this is the first time this has ever happened.
Q. Does that change your view about working with the law? Do you feel this is the way of the future? I say that for several reasons not least being that America now has something called the "Patriot Act" and things are harder for animal activists. Is it too soon to say or do you think this is a good way to go?
A. You know, I've always felt both ways. I'm always frustrated that the law takes too long sometimes but you know what? In order for this to ever work at a level that we want it to work at -- a Federal level -- to change the laws we need to do these investigations and get the Federal government in on it. This is one of these cases where we work within the system but you've got to be clever about it too.
When we did this case the Attorney General asked me one question: "How did you ascertain this info with the photos in the trenches of all the dead dogs?" I told him straight out: "I trespassed". I trespassed 22 times. I mean how else was I going to get this quality information? If it meant I had to go to jail, it was a risk I was prepared to take.
So, to answer your question: Yes, sometimes you've got to work within the law and sometimes you have to work outside of the law and sometimes the law needs to be broken as well if it's unjust.
Q. What do you think about this new conservative push to call welfarism the 'rights' movement at the moment?
A. You are absolutely right. It's a real trap and it's easy to fall into this trap. If you are working in welfarism then you are only looking at the symptoms of the problem. You've got to get to the core of the problem and that is the rights of animals. We've got to change the law for the animals and set new precedents.
Q. Do you think it's also about having the intelligence and good-will to understand activists need to trail blaze now to assist activists 10,20, 30 years down the track?
A. Yes I do and there lies the problem. Everyone wants the quick fix. Take this latest case with C.C.Baird for instance. These types of cases we work on take a long time -- over 15 years -- but they produce permanent change. Most of the cases LCA's has ever done has been in the area of setting new precedents. We were the first ever to put these people into State prison for any animal issue, ever, and it happened to be on this particular issue. They got 14 years total between the 3 of them when sentenced. Nobody got 14 minutes previous to us looking at the Pet Theft Industry.
Q. Last time I interviewed you, you said you had a dream of putting the first vivisector away. Now how hard is that?
A. That's very, very hard. I was kind of hoping that this case might do it but the fact of the matter is, the reason I think it walked is not because we didn't have the goods on them, we did. It was because it meant that 47 to 49 research facilities in the country were accepting stolen animals and the government is just not going to go out there and hassle them. It's too big.
Now, if there was only one facility taking stolen dogs then they might have acted but the jury is still out on that, so to speak, regarding criminal indictments. I predict that's going to happen in the next couple of months because it's moving along fast now. At the height of this campaign, literally thousands of people were calling the government, plugging up their fax machines and their emails to a point whether they couldn't function any longer. It was a powerful message to send and I promise you this. This is the only reason they prosecuted these people on civil charges as much as they did. We buried the USDA/APIS [Animal Plant Inspection Services]. Altogether involved in this case were no less that 7 Federal agencies. The funny thing is nobody else but Last Chance for Animals worked on this case. All of a sudden everyone wanted in on a slice of the pie. There were a couple of well-known animal rights organisations trying to get the credit for it.
Q. I am so pleased you mentioned that. We are finding the same here in Australia. By putting in the hard work -- homegrown activists from the most radical to the most conservative -- are seeing once a campaign becomes successful and "media-worthy", organisations that we know of from America, having never shown any interest in the Australian issue before, suddenly coming out of nowhere and claiming credit for a campaign that was never theirs in the first place. The mood of the movement is this is allowed to go on because this organisation in question is rich and can afford full page glossy ads -- but they only ever mention their name in the ad and haven't done any hand's on work in Australia. There's never discussions of coalition- based campaigns with other groups either.
A. You are absolutely right. You have hit the nail right on the head. And this is why they have a budget of millions. LCA doesn't even make half of one million. . This is because they spend all of their time raising money. We spend all of our time helping animals.
Q. Activists like yourself and myself are beginning to realise this is just the tip of the ice-berg.
A. There are a couple of others trying to climb the ladder and have also made a lot of money out of LCA. It's really disheartening and you know why? It's not even so much that they are making money. If they were making money and doing something to help animals that's one thing. I tell you it's a real problem and what happens is they jump from one campaign to another, depending on what is the hot issue of the time. They work on it for a while, raising all kinds of money from it and then they move onto another issue. So people who donated money to help that particular issue think that the problem must now be solved because that group has moved on.
The tragedy is the animals are still suffering but the organisations have moved on to other issues because that's where the money is. The difference between LCA and others is we stay on until the job is done, until it's over, until somebody is in prison, or they have had their licence taken away from them. On this recent success, we are staying with it until it passes Congress -- seeing Federal laws which will outlaw all of these B-Dealers. Now that's a constant financial drain on us.
It's never bothered me about these other groups until about the last two years. Because I try and stay focused on trying to do the best I can do to help animals, we've had serious financial problems. I had the revelation that these people who are making millions are the same ones that are doing NOTHING for animals. I have a friend who once worked for one of these organisations. He's a good guy too. He said he's was doing a lot of research with the Freedom of Information Act. The Head of this particular organisation comes in and says to him: "Fuck all of that paperwork. Find out what other organsisations are doing on what animals". See! They get as much publicity as they can on an issue, then they move onto something else.
Q. The thing is this isn't even a naive process happening here. It's a deliberate process and there's a lot of secrecy surrounding it.
A. Oh no, it's not even deliberate. It's designed that way. When that's all they are doing all day, that's very sad. It's a sad state of affairs for the animals.
Q. However I'm grateful that you have spoken out about it. I don't know why this has to happen. A group operating in Australia recently told me they have to water down the abolitionist message because the general public can't accept it at the moment. I think it's important to expose these obvious contradictions for people who make their living from animals.
A. Absolutely. I'm at a point where I want to do that but I haven't up until now. I did put a Cease and Desist Order out on one of the American organisations to finally putting a stop to them ever taking claim to any of our work again. And they were trying their hardest too.
When this recent case broke they came out with press releases mentioning the whole history of the case and in the last paragraph they mentioned they made one telephone call in 1992 to the USDA and that's what prompted this whole investigation. Come on now: "Who do they think they are kidding?"
LCA turned over this definite evidence that something bad was happening at this compound and the authorities were forced to act because we would have gone to the media with it and they would have looked like shit. We have forced their hand and it turned out well for animals for a change.
Do you want to know something? People in this movement have become very wishy washy. Some of these newer people coming up are not really thinking things out and now there's another element and it's all this infighting and stealing of each others thunder. I'm so disgusted with it.
Along the way I've been offered awards -- the Animal Rights Hall of Fame etc but I don't want that. That's not what I'm in it for. I'm here to fight for animals and the same people offering these awards are pathetic. They are pathetic because they take their own awards that they, themselves, created. The whole thing is just a joke. And then there are a couple of these other organisations riding on everybody else's coat tails. There's no doubt about it. Questioning these things is the first step. Damage is being done through the unscrupulousness actions of a few adversely affecting the many.
For further info go to: www.lcanimal.org/invest/baird.htm