Sixteen years! Can you believe it? Sixteen years ago today I flew in to Jackson, MS from from San Francisco. Sally Link and Jan Leslie had been pleading for IDA’s help to expose and end the nefarious business practices of USDA licensed animal dealer, Jerry Vance. A Department of Environmental Quality inspector who had inspected Vance’s pig farm had discovered his massive kennel operation next door. The inspector was missing his dog that he believed to be stolen. He asked a worker if he could look at the dogs and, amazingly, among the hundreds of dogs, he found his.
That night he called Jan Leslie, the one remaining active member of the defunct Grenada Humane Society. Jan prompted a flurry of activities that spread the word resulting in a second dog being recovered from Vance’s operation. Jan notified the USDA and local authorities with little to no result.
It’s a long and moving story that sadly concludes with the second and final disappearance of both recovered dogs, months of investigating Ripley, Mississippi’s “First Monday”, a trade and sell event held the weekend before the first Monday of each month. Trips to other auctions and trade days where “bunchers”, people who obtain dogs and cats in any manner possible and sell them for biomedical research, uncovered more dealers. Jeff Hodges, crony to Jerry Vance, was one of the dealers. The horrors I captured in video and photos at his kennels made national news.
I was to be in Mississippi for two weeks. Months of undercover work and the superb assistance from our home office team exposed the dealings of these men. What our investigation uncovered was so incredible that we caught the attention of the popular news magazine show Eye to Eye.
When the nation learned that these dealers each had over 750 violations of the Federal Animal Welfare Act, regulations intended to protect animals destined for laboratories from unnecessary abuse, the USDA was besieged with calls. The USDA was forced to pull the licenses of these men. In a cruel twist of fate the men were fined $25,000 each, but weren’t required to pay it “unless they were caught violating the AWA again.”
The encounters I had with neglect and cruelty between February and August made it very clear that IDA’s presence was vital in the region.
In the first few years we were amazed with the events we encountered. Another outrageous case that comes to mind; Jim Bates, a pet shop supplier, who horribly neglected his animals – we removed 683 dead and dying birds, rodents, and reptiles from just one of his warehouses. He was ordered to pay a $3000 fine and to cease business in Poplarville, MS. Today, he’s back in the news. After years of moving, he relocated in Jackson. The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks learned he was selling native wildlife, that he was again badly neglecting, and charged him. He’s now fled arrest.
We’ve shut down puppymills, collectors, including Catherine Twiss, who held 86 lions, tigers, bears, pumas, a liger and a camel in the most deplorable of conditions. We helped prosecute a pet shop dealer who locked her doors and left the animals to die. We’ve helped countless animals, making a difference one animal at a time.
Looking back, all of this is amazing to me, but the most amazing thing is when an abused or neglected animal comes to Hope Sanctuary and is able to find peace in this sanctuary we’ve established for those who would have otherwise had no hope.
We’ve come so far. Mississippi State University now spays and neuters for us twice a month, we’re beginning to gain the support of the community, and we’ve had a profound affect on law enforcement, the courts, and the public. There is still much work to be done.
Thank you to everyone who’s helped us on this sixteen year journey. We couldn’t have done it without your support.