CAT THEFT FOR CLASSROOM DISSECTION STUDIES
"CATCHING THE CAT THIEVES"
American school children are using pets stolen in Mexico for dissection lessons. Jason Black describes how WSPA pieced together the horrific facts behind a sickening trade.
We have become a city without cats," exclaimed a woman from Mexicali, north-west Mexico in an emotional letter sent to WSPA’s Boston office. The letter, which arrived in February 1994, described the mass roundup of cats from the city’s streets and enclosed photographs of slaughtered cats preserved with embalming fluid. Shortly afterwards, WSPA learned of a report describing a truck carrying two thousand preserved cat specimens from the city, allegedly bound for biological supply houses in the United States, According to the report, police in Mexicali had detained three men found in a ramshackle building in which 55 live cats and the bodies of 247 dead cats were found. One of the men, Lopes Garcia, produced a document from a company called ‘Preparation of Animals Material for Scholarly Study’ (PARMEESA), authorizing the collection of cats.
Note: In livestock slaughterhouses, the living animals must not see other animals being slaughtered. It appears that the cats witness the slaughter of their fellows. This, along with overcrowding of cats in crates, would cause great distress.
To discover the full facts behind the incident, an expert team from WSPA and the Massachusetts SPCA were immediately dispatched to Mexico to carry out an undercover investigation.
The team first visited the main offices of PARMEESA at Los Mochis, about 600 miles south of Mexicali. Inside, they saw numerous boxes stacked on wooden pallets which appeared to be ready for dispatch. An address label was affixed to each box bearing the name of a US company "Fisher-EMD", They were clearly marked in Spanish "Preserved Cats, Made in Mexico" and labelled "catalogue no. S1806S", Fisher-EMD (Educational Materials Division) supplies animals for dissection to schools throughout the United States, Their current catalogue identifies this number as "Large Cat 18, Double $41.20". The investigation team counted ten pallets each containing 20 boxes, giving a total of over 1,600 cats,
The team was referred to an American manager, who was at first suspicious of being questioned but soon relaxed and divulged that PARMEESA was under exclusive contract to provide biological specimens to a firm in Arizona. Subsequently, WSPA staff were able to confirm that trailers delivered specimens from Los Mochis to Arizona up to three times a week.
Having documented PARMEESA’s operation in Los Mochis, the WSPA staff then travelled north to Mexicali, close to the Arizona border. They visited the home of Lopez Garcia, the man who had been detained by police when the cat slaughtering facility was first uncovered. In his absence, Lopez Garcia’s family explained that he employed six men who collected cats using two trucks. They described how the men announced their arrival in different parts of the city through a loudspeaker attached to one of the trucks, offering to pay one dollar for any unwanted cat. The men worked seven days a week, and each truck usually collected 30 to 40 cats a day.
The WSPA team arranged a meeting with Lopez Garcia and recorded the interview on a hidden video camera. Lopez Garcia confirmed that he worked for PARMEESA, and said that the company was a subsidiary of an Arizona based company. When asked how the cats were killed, he said that he preferred to drown them. He explained that approximately ten cats were placed in a cloth bag and then submerged, two bags at a time, in a drum of water. According to Lopez Garcia the drowning process takes a few minutes.
Note: Unconsciousness - not death - might occur within a few minutes. Drowning is neither humane nor efficient. Supposedly drowning leaves the bodies in good shape (it is also used by some fur-farmers in countries where the fur trade is unregulated). The cats would panic and fight each other before and during submersion.
With information obtained from police files WSPA staff spoke to a second man, Salcido Lopez, who said that he had been in charge of killing the cats. He said local children helped him, bringing many cats to the trucks, and he agreed that a large percentage of the cats were probably pets.
According to Salcido Lopez, after drowning, each animal was removed from the barrel and placed on its back on a wooden board and secured by two rubber straps across the body. A wooden block was placed in the cat’s mouth to keep it open. An incision was made into its throat, and a needle was inserted into the jugular vein through which embalming fluid was pumped. Finally, the cats were sealed in plastic bags ready for dispatch to PARMEESA in Los Mochis.
Note: As if death by drowning is not a horrific end in itself, there is the horrifying possibility that many of the cats, including much loved pets, are embalmed alive being unconscious rather than dead from drowning. Where animals are dealt with in bulk they would be submerged for the minimum time possible to allow many animals to be dealt with in a short period of time.
Afterwards the WSPA team spoke with residents living near the building where the cats were killed. One man said that he saw workers transport hundreds of cats in cages to the facility. A woman explained how she found a black cat with a head wound which had escaped into her yard. The team examined this animal which appeared to have a traumatic head injury.
Note: Traumatic head injury suggests that the cats are struck in order to subdue or stun them e.g. with a household hammer or by swinging them by the back legs against a wall.
Another woman told the WSPA team that a man approached her house and threw a noose over her cat’s neck while it was lying in the sun in her front yard. She said she ran outside screaming and demanded that he release the cat. She said she was offered one dollar for the cat but she refused and took it into the safety of her house.
Note: One wonders whether Americans have become so indoctrinated in the indoor-only cat-keeping lifestyle that some are losing all respect for outdoor cats - be they ferals, strays, working cats or indoor-outdoor pets. The motto "an indoor cat is a loved cat" equates to "an outdoor cat is an unloved cat". Indeed, there is so little respect for outdoor cats that until relatively recently the HSUS stated that feral cats should be euthanized for their own good! Will the insidious spread of Americanised attitudes ("McGlobalization") mean that outdoor cats are now seen as nothing more than laboratory or schoolroom resources?
Following this investigation, efforts are now underway through WSPA’s Pet Respect campaign to bring an end to this trade. As a result of the evidence obtained by WSPA the biological supply industry in the United States has been exposed to intense public scrutiny. A news item in the Thcson Citizen asked Fisher EMD how the biological specimens they sold were obtained. A spokesperson from Fisher EMD replied: "They say they collect and process cats in a humane way. But drowning is not humane and not acceptable." He added, "it has been brought to our attention that there may be problems. We’re going to our suppliers and have them verify how these cats are killed."
The results of this investigation have been presented to Senator Russ Feingold who is considering revisions to the Federal Animal Welfare Act.
WSPA is calling for amendments which would make it illegal to import animals that were not legitimately and legally obtained, and that have not been humanely euthanized.
In Mexico the department of agriculture issued a memorandum to all state representatives in June, declaring the trade to be illegal. In the city of Mexicali, the site used for killing and processing cats has now been shut down. A second facility which supplied preserved cats to PARMEESA from the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca has also been closed. WSPA’s International Projects Director, John Walsh, commented, "We are just scratching the surface of a wicked trade, which is decimating animal populations and leaving behind a legacy of anguished children and families who have lost their pets." WSPA will continue to work to prevent the future stealing and inhumane killing of pets to be used for dissection classrooms in schools throughout the United States.
Most US states still require dissection in pre-university education and a multi-million dollar industry supplies preserved animals for dissection to almost every school in the country. Over six million animals are killed each year to provide the specimens. Switzerland, Norway, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Denmark have prohibited dissection below university level, and Argentina reportedly has banned it completely. In the United Kingdom, the use of cats in school dissection classes is not allowed and pupils are given the choice to opt out of classes involving the dissection of rats and frogs. Interactive computer models which simulate dissections are now used as an alternative in many schools.
Computer models make real life dissections unnecessary in schools.