Illegal dog importers, posing as animal rescue organizations, nabbed in Plainfield

Plainfield — A Tennessee resident transporting 30 dogs, 17 without proper health certificates and other documents, was arrested earlier this summer at a public parking lot, the state Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday.

The arrest occurred June 27 as part of a task force of animal control officers from the state Department of Agriculture and inspectors from Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, as well as Plainfield police targeting unlicensed animal importers who transfer dogs and cats to adopters for donation fees, the agriculture department said in a news release.

Also participating were state police troopers and officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Two other importers from Tennessee and one from Ohio, carrying a total of 45 dogs and cats, were also issued citations as a result of the task force action.

The public is advised to be aware of illegal dog and cat sales by out-of-state organizations portraying themselves as animal rescue organizations but who are not licensed to do business in Connecticut, the agriculture department said.

The USDA licenses and regulates transport and sale of animals. Transporters doing business in Connecticut also must obtain an importation license from the state agriculture department and file notice of any intended sale event.

Agriculture Commissioner Steven Reviczky said the unlicensed sales are not only illegal but often involve animals that have health issues and have not been given proper veterinary care.

"Buying or adopting an animal represents a long-term commitment and should never be done on impulse or without researching both the animal and the seller," Reviczky said. "Far too many well-intentioned people are going home with animals that they believe are healthy, but are later found to have serious and expensive health issues."

Verification that a seller or importer is licensed and has filed event notices can be found on the state’s E-Licensing website.

Potential buyers should also ask for a copy of the animal's health certificate, carefully read any contract offered, and where the drop-off will be. If it is in a state commuter lot, the adoption is not legal because no commercial business is allowed in the lots, the agriculture department said.

The June 27 task force operation came after an investigation into complaints that illegal importers were using commuter parking lots to conduct the transfer of animals, often on weekends.

Buyers or adopters typically view the animals on an organization’s website, and arrange to meet the transporter in the lot at a specified time. Donation fees can commonly reach several hundred dollars.

The arrest occurred after task force officers arriving at the state commuter lot on Interstate 395 at 7 a.m. on June 27 and observed a maroon van with Tennessee registration plates containing numerous dogs and cats, several of which had just been delivered to their new owners, the news release said.

The transport company, Pooches on the Move, in Athens, Tenn., was not licensed to import animals into Connecticut.

Company owner Cindy Rhoda was subsequently cited for one count of failing to register as an importer, and was also was cited for 16 counts of failing to provide an event notice — one for each animal brought into the state.

Any animal importer who intends to offer a dog or cat for sale, adoption or transfer at a public venue such as a parking lot or shopping center is required to provide notice to the agriculture department and the local zoning enforcement officer no later than 10 days prior to the event.

Violations carry a maximum fine of $100 per animal.

An hour later, members of the task force went to a public parking lot in Plainfield, where several adopters were seen being handed dogs from a white van registered in Tennessee.

After witnessing the exchange of cash between an adopter and the van’s driver, Timothy Giles, officers approached and found 17 animals inside.

Giles, 64, owner of the K-9 Cowboy transport company in Franklin, Tenn., produced a valid Connecticut transport license but had outdated or improper health certificates and other documentation for several of the animals, the agriculture department said.

Officers interviewed the adopters and learned that all were prepared to pay for the dogs by cash or check, agriculture department Animal Control Officer Todd Curry wrote in a report on the case.

"However, with inspectors present during the transfer, Giles would hold his arms up in the air and refuse to take the payment," in order to avoid a violation, Curry wrote. "All adopters left without paying."

Giles was arrested on seven misdemeanor charges stemming from the health certificate violations, one count of operating an animal facility without a license, and was cited for 17 counts of failing to provide event notices.

Kyle Pederson, 42, also of Tennessee, was charged with operating an animal facility without a license after officers witnessed one of his workers taking $125 cash in exchange for one of 39 dogs found in his tractor-trailer parked at a state commuter lot in Plainfield.

Pederson, owner of PETS Transport Company, was subsequently cited for 17 counts of failing to provide event notices.

A fourth importer, Greg Mahler, 53, of Zanesville, Ohio, was cited for one count of failure to provide event notices after he was observed delivering dogs to several adopters from his Rescue Road Trips tractor-trailer at a public parking lot in Putnam that afternoon.

The adopters told officers that they had prepaid for the dogs via Pay Pal or a credit card. Mahler was cited for one count of failing to provide an event notice.

j.benson@theday.com

Twitter: @BensonJudy

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