A Closer Look Behind the Scenes in the Grisly Pet Trade: USGE Investigation

Dozens of prairie dogs struggle to survive severe crowding in a metal trough at USGE.

For seven months, a PETA investigator went undercover at U.S. Global Exotics (USGE), a massive international exotic-animal wholesale facility in Arlington, Texas. At the time, USGE was one of the nation's largest sellers of exotic animals to distributors and pet stores around the world. In the U.S., USGE shipped mammals, reptiles, amphibians, arachnids, and other animals to pet stores, breeders, and other wholesale distributors, including suppliers to PETCO and PetSmart. One such supplier was Rainbow World Exotics, at which similarly horrific conditions were found by another undercover PETA investigator. PETA's investigation of USGE and courtroom testimony also revealed that the company directly supplied animals to national chain Petland.

USGE confined tens of thousands of animals to its facility and employed a staff of three or four people to care for them. PETA's investigation revealed that hamsters, gerbils, hedgehogs, chinchillas, ferrets, snakes, lizards, turtles, tortoises, frogs, wallabies, sloths, anteaters, kinkajous, and other exotic animals suffered terribly as a result of continuous, cruel confinement to severely crowded and filthy enclosures. Animals at USGE were denied not only a natural habitat but also the most basic necessities, including food, water, adequate air and space, humidity, heat, veterinary care, and even a painless end to their misery.

This joey, one of 30 wallabies caught in the wild in New Zealand, did not survive being shipped to Texas.

Primates and other sophisticated mammals at USGE were locked inside barren bins and cages as well as dark, dungeon-like metal troughs, sometimes for months. Animals who were subjected to this type of cruel confinement were driven to desperate behaviors such as incessant pacing, "back flips," and other repetitive movements; frantic clawing at cage openings in an attempt to escape; fighting for space and food; and refusing to eat. Hundreds of injured and dying squirrels, lizards, and snakes were frozen to death in USGE's chest freezer, in which some animals remained alive for hours before finally dying.

USGE—which, thanks to PETA's investigation, is now out of business—was owned and operated by Jasen and Vanessa Shaw. The couple acted as USGE's president and vice president. Over the course of PETA's investigation, the Shaws shrugged off, altogether ignored, or just plain forgot about dozens of requests for food and basic care for animals—some of whom were gravely ill and dying. When an outbreak of vesicular disease started killing snakes daily, USGE Vice President Vanessa Shaw said that a veterinarian's recommended treatment for the animals was "f***ing ludicrous" because of the time and medicine that the treatment would have required, which was minimal. The Shaws routinely ordered that live animals—including a squirrel whose neck had been so badly wounded that muscle was exposed and a chinchilla who was bleeding from a prolapsed rectum—be frozen to death.

This injured reticulated python was one of the many snakes who suffered and died miserable deaths at USGE.

USGE bought and sold wild-caught and captive-bred animals across America and around the world. Animals who survived grueling journeys into the Dallas–Fort Worth International Airport were subjected to deplorable conditions and systemic neglect at USGE, sometimes being kept for days or weeks in pillowcases, shipping boxes, or even 2-liter soda bottles with no food, water, or other basic necessities. Those who survived the stress, illness, and injuries that are business as usual in the pet trade were sold to stores, breeders, and dealers internationally. See the chart that shows the magnitude of USGE's business worldwide.

If you purchased your family's animal companion from a pet store—even Fortune 500 companies PetSmart or PETCO, both of which target unsuspecting, compassionate people like you when they highlight their refusal to sell dogs and cats from breeding mills—you likely lined the pockets of USGE or other wholesalers and distributors of animals.

Painful injuries like this hamster's were common at USGE, the result of being confined to extremely crowded bins.

While the animals you've read about here have been rescued and are no longer in danger, there are millions of others suffering the same hell at a pet store near you. Call on PetSmart and PETCO today to end the sale of animals at their stores. These national pet store chains need to hear that you will not shop at their stores again unless they stick with the sale of supplies only.

And please remember that you, your friends, and your family can help make a lifesaving difference for animal victims of the pet trade by always adopting—never buying—animals from pet stores and by buying your animal companion's supplies only at stores that refuse to sell live animals of any kind.

Next: Learn more about the animals' rescue and legal developments following PETA's investigation. >

Behind the Scenes in the Pet Trade:

A PETA Undercover Investigation