/ Modified dec 1, 2023 11:22 a.m.

Humane Society final report reiterates hundred of small pets likely used as snake feed

Investigation reveals that a transfer of 323 small pets in August likely led to some being turned into reptile feed, highlighting leadership failures, lack of communication, and a culture of fear among staff regarding adoption numbers at the organization.

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Courtesy of the Humane Society of Southern Arizona

The Humane Society of Southern Arizona said during a Nov. 30 press conference that the findings of their independent investigation into the Aug. 6 transfer of more than 300 small pets confirms many of the animals were likely turned into animal feed.

Former Humane Society Chief Programs Officer Christian Gonzalez orchestrated the transfer of 323 guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters and more in August to Colten Jones, a Maricopa County man who runs an unaccredited reptile business. A few weeks later, 62 of them were returned to the Humane Society.

Independent investigator Terry Flores says that while Jones denies the animals were turned into feed, there is evidence to the contrary.

“While no definitive evidence was found that Gonzalez or HSSA knew Colten Jones intended to freeze the small animals for sale at a reptile show, the text message discovered by KVOA investigative reporter Chorus Nylander creates a reasonable believe Jones may have used some of the animals for those purposes,” Flores said.

The text message, which was sent from Jones to another person in the reptile community, asked for help to freeze guinea pigs and rabbits.

The animals originally came from the Humane Society of San Diego who had been caring for the animals for many months. Former Tucson Humane Society CEO Steve Farley was fired and Gonzalez resigned over the incident.

Flores’ report on the incident found it was a result of: a failure of leadership, a lack of communication and due diligence, ignoring policies, a push to just get things done, and an environment where employees feared for their jobs if intake numbers didn’t increase.

The report found no evidence of any money exchange in the transfer, but offered as a possible explanation for why it happened, a culture created primarily by Farley that made some staff fear for their jobs.

Many staff told Flores during the investigation initiated by the board that they were worried about their jobs because Farley and Gonzalez told them that if adoption numbers did not go up, the board was ready to start terminating employees, an assertion Board Chair Robert Garcia said isn’t true.

The report also found that the directive to increase intake and adoption numbers was a performance measure metric that could have qualified Farley for a bonus.

As well, Gonzalez told the investigator that he agreed to and arranged the transfer because he believed it would be something Farley wanted.

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