Former USGE Owner Wanted on Federal Felonies
December 9, 2009, was a fateful day for animals exploited by the pet trade. It forever changed the fate of the animals who had been suffering at USGE's Arlington, Texas, warehouse and the fate of animals who would be suffering there today if the facility were still in business.
Day of Seizure: Photos
Evidence gathered during PETA's investigation was shared with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, whose agents executed a search and seizure warrant at USGE on December 9. The agents seized records and computers that they suspected would reveal violations of the Lacey Act—a federal law designed to combat trafficking in illegal wildlife, among other things. Upon entering the facility, the federal agents, who have no jurisdiction over local anti-cruelty laws, called Arlington officials with concerns about animal welfare issues.
The multimillion-dollar business's facility reeked of death and decaying flesh. Tens of thousands of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and arachnids—many of them sick, injured, dying, or dead—were confined in filthy, deplorable conditions. Arlington officials met with PETA that same day, and less than a week later, more than 26,000 animals were seized from USGE. See video from the seizure and rescue facility here.
In preparation for the seizure, PETA mobilized experts from around the world, including an "all-star" team of veterinarians and a world-renowned reptile biologist who specializes in the assessment, care, and treatment of exotic animals. Dozens of people from various agencies collaborated and worked late into the wee hours of the morning to rescue USGE's victims, from the endangered ring-tailed lemurs who had been confined to the same small, barren cage for years to the thousands of spiders, snakes, lizards, and frogs caught in the wild in faraway countries.
On the day of the seizure, hundreds of animals were found dead—one freezer contained the remains of three sloths, a tree porcupine, dozens of sugar gliders, and a labba, among other animals. Those who survived the horrific conditions at USGE were transported to a rescue facility where they finally received adequate food, water, heat, and humidity and a chance to overcome the days, weeks, or months of neglect that they had suffered at the hands of the pet trade. PETA was eventually able to secure permanent homes for many of the animals, a good number of whom were placed with the progressive Detroit Zoo.
USGE's owners, Jasen and Vanessa Shaw, did not attend the hearing that would determine the fate of their "inventory" because they were vacationing in their homeland of New Zealand. The Shaws' attorneys tried every trick in the book to get the animals back. They even got representatives of the Dallas World Aquarium and the Fort Worth Zoo to testify in defense of the Shaws' business practices, which included not feeding snakes for months, confining up to 50 tree frogs in one 2-liter soda bottle, and keeping baby turtles stacked in boxes for weeks without any food, water, heat, or light in order to "force hibernate" them. The zoo reps claimed that such abuse was an industry standard in the pet trade.
After hearing seven days of testimony—much of it from PETA's undercover investigator—a judge ruled that all the animals had been treated cruelly and would not be returned. The Shaws fought the ruling and appealed, but justice prevailed—again—when a second judge affirmed the initial ruling.
USGE was a major player in the international exotic-pet trade as a multimillion-dollar business that exported and imported millions of animals for eventual resale at stores and chains all over the world, including PETCO and PetSmart stores. But since the December 2009 raid, USGE has effectively been shut down. Not a single animal has been bought or sold by USGE, and the company's facility is empty and up for sale. A federal arrest warrant has been issued for Jasen Shaw, who is under investigation for smuggling, conspiracy, and aiding and abetting; he is in New Zealand and is the subject of an Interpol red notice. In March 2012, Dr. Gene F. Giggleman, who was USGE's attending veterinarian, was formally reprimanded based on allegations of unprofessional and/or dishonorable conduct and fined $2,500 as a result of evidence gathered during PETA's investigation.
PETA's investigation saved far more than the 26,000 animals who were rescued from USGE in December 2009. Our efforts spared millions of animals from the terror and misery of being captured and stolen from their native homes; shipped thousands of miles in cramped crates, pillowcases, boxes, bags, and bottles; and kept in hellish conditions at USGE's warehouse. However, there are many other animals who are still suffering in the pet trade. Remind your friends and family never to buy animals from pet stores—warehouses like USGE supply animals to distributors for sale in stores—and ask national chains PETCO and PetSmart to stop selling all animals now.