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Largest Rodent Seizure In U.S. History Ends With Mass Euthanasia

Rancho Santa Margarita area-based Global Captive Breeders is responsible for about 600 reptiles and 18,400 rodents euthanized in its Lake Elsinore breeding facility. Animals were 'too sick, too toxic' to move.

The largest rodent seizure in United States history has ended with nearly 20,000 animals humanely euthanized after allegedly suffering severe neglect and abuse from their owner.

Approximately 600 reptiles and 18,400 rodents owned by Rancho Santa Margarita area-based Global Captive Breeders were euthanized via lethal injection by licensed veterinarians, said Willa Bagwell, executive director for Wildomar-based Animal Friends of the Valleys.

The grim task of assessing, cataloguing and euthanizing the animals was carried out over the course of eight days after an initial investigation into alleged neglect and abuse began Dec. 7 at the Global Captive Breeders breeding facility located at 530 3rd Street, Bagwell said.

“The animals were too sick, too toxic, too critical to move,” she said of the decision to euthanize on site.

Global Captive Breeders owner Mitch Behm surrendered custody of the reptiles and rodents to Animal Friends of the Valleys on Dec. 15, authorizing the organization to end the animals’ suffering, confirmed Lake Elsinore city spokesman Justin Carlson.

The company's corporate address is listed in Las Flores, on Oso Parkway.

“After careful analysis, a team of veterinarians, reptile specialists, and animal cruelty investigations experts determined that due to the extreme neglect, cruelty and dangerously unhealthy long-term conditions, contaminated environment and the potential for further suffering, euthanasia was the safest and most humane option for the animals and the community at large,” Carlson said.

Bagwell, who has been involved in the investigation since it began, described the scene and smell at the facility as “horrific.”

“We had animals that had been dead for weeks with maggots crawling out of them,” she said. "There was terrible suffering in unimaginable conditions."

Of the animals that were still alive when the investigation began, Bagwell explained most were too sick, too weak to eat.

Bagwell said the facility has now been cleared out and the animal carcasses transported by a licensed renderer. Law enforcement officials have seized control of the building where a criminal investigation is ongoing, she said.

“Felony charges will be filed,” Bagwell said.

Calls to Behm’s office have gone unreturned and there are no immediate reports of his arrest.

Officials with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have confirmed this is the largest seizure of rodents in U.S. history, Bagwell said.

"GCB was a reeking hellhole for the rats, snakes, and other animals who were left to starve, drown, and die among the rotting corpses of other animals," said PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk. "The individuals responsible for this staggering cruelty must be prosecuted and banned from laying their hands on another animal."

PETA alleges Orange County resident Behm videotaped himself in the 1980s throwing mice, rats, and rabbits into a bathtub with ferrets, who attacked and killed them. Behm admitted to conducting these unapproved "experiments" in part for his own "enjoyment," but the statute of limitations had expired by the time law-enforcement authorities discovered the video footage, PETA alleges.

When the Lake Elsinore investigation began earlier this month and officials started speaking with potential witnesses, some in the 3rd Street neighborhood came forward to complain of foul smells emanating from the building, Bagwell said.

“People need to file complaints right away,” Bagwell urged, noting that early tips may save animal lives.

“It has been a grueling and emotional week for AFV staff and all the volunteers involved in this heartbreaking process who have had to endure witnessing how these animals suffered,” she continued.

According to its website, Global Captive Breeders sold reptiles and rodents to the public via delivery.

“I feel strongly that we have a case of animal suffering and death due to human greed,” Bagwell said, adding that anyone interested in purchasing exotics should be educated on how to care for them and research reputable breeders before buying.

PETA officials began an undercover investigation into Global Captive Breeders two months ago and were first to bring the Lake Elsinore case to AFV’s attention. Over the course of the last week the animal rights’ organization, along with officials from the Marin Humane Society, have helped provide resources locally, Bagwell said.

“There were about 30 to 60 people each day at the facility,” she added.

"By far, this is the most severe and large-scale single facility forcing animals to live in vile and horrific conditions that I have experienced in my nearly 30 years as an animal cruelty investigator," said Captain Cindy Machado, the Marin Humane Society animal services director and animal cruelty expert who assisted in coordinating and leading the response and investigative teams at GCB. "We found evidence of animals drowning; dying in enclosures; rotting and decaying in cages; living for days without water; deprived of simple, basic care; and living in high levels of contaminated air—by far exceeding the level of suffering we have ever encountered."

In an PETA statement, the organization contends that during its two-month investigation that its investigators "documented a failure to provide animals with adequate space, food, and water; injured and sick animals deprived of veterinary care; and reptiles left to languish and die in filth-encrusted tubs, surrounded by their own waste and the maggot-ridden remains of other animals. GCB workers, including its manager, shot at rats with a BB gun, froze them alive, bludgeoned them with metal tongs and gun handles, and smashed them against hard surfaces in an attempt to kill them."

The city of Lake Elsinore, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire Department are among the agencies involved in the ongoing investigation.

Richard Oakley December 20, 2012 at 03:05 PM
This is deplorable. I am disgusted that Mr. Behm is even associated with our City.
mary December 20, 2012 at 03:51 PM
Behm must be punished to the fullest extent !!!!! what a scum bag ...shame on pp for not turning him in sooner!!!
Amanda LaRosa December 20, 2012 at 04:41 PM
If he works in such squallor, imagine what his home is like....
Rob rodgers December 20, 2012 at 05:00 PM
What's gross exaggeration of the truth, I have been to this facility and mr beam is getting a media bliss Don't believe the media or blame good people unless you have the facts
janice hooper December 20, 2012 at 06:28 PM
Pictures seem legit, I'm sure the investigating will reveal the truth. That is a pretty staggering number of animals to put down sure to neglect. Its very sad.
ms.sc. December 20, 2012 at 07:49 PM
The owner and anyone else responsible for this cruelty should suffer the same horrors they subjected these living creatures to! Perhaps they will. Sad and sick. I am not a big fan on rodents, but they are God's creatures too!
April Josephson December 21, 2012 at 02:23 AM
I agree with you Mr. Oakley!
ms.sc. December 21, 2012 at 02:34 AM
Mr. rodgers...I don't believe I would want you in my "neighborhood" if you think the article is a gross exaggeration of truth. You best put on another color of sweater from your closet and choose different neighbors!
owen callahan December 21, 2012 at 03:32 AM
The facts? All the facts I need are in those pictures. This guy should be prosecuted big time.
Anonymous December 21, 2012 at 06:49 AM
Sadly Mr. Rodgers those r the facts. I have been there as well and know quiet a few people who have wroked there. Sadly this place has gone to hell way beyond what it was the last time I personally was there.
ms.sc. December 21, 2012 at 07:01 AM
Why? What was the purpose for the cruelty? This person obviously did not like nor love themself to cause such harm to another.
LW December 22, 2012 at 08:52 PM
This man is incredibly cruel and disgusting. And Mr Rodgers is his emissary. How can anybody with a conscience or an ounce of empathy do this to these defenseless creatures. This guy should be behind bars, prosecuted to the fullest.
oh Holland December 22, 2012 at 11:12 PM
Behm may be the leader in cruelty at his business, but plenty of his employees were gleeful in torturing and killing those poor animals, too. Each and every one of these monsters needs to be put away for decades. If I were Queen, they'd get much worse that prison.
Charlotte January 04, 2013 at 05:57 PM
PETA is as much to blame for this as any other person working there. There were only 3 employees and the undercover PETA operative was one of them. This person took a pay check to care for animals and filmed them being tortured instead. PETA wants to ban all animal ownership and they will stoop so low as to watch this happen for months doing nothing to help these animals just to convince the public that this is typical of the pet trade. IT IS NOT. The reptile and rodent breeding industry have many ethical people and companies who find this as repulsive as anyone else.
ms.sc. January 04, 2013 at 07:34 PM
Good point Charlotte.

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