Animal-Rights Activists Scuffle for Missing Pets

Times Staff Writer

A fight broke out between animal-rights activists and security guards at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on Friday after the activists demanded a search of laboratories for dogs and cats they say were unwittingly given to a man who sold them for research.

The Los Angeles Department of Animal Regulation said Friday that it is looking for the man, who is suspected of having misled at least 12 San Fernando Valley families when he told them that he wanted to adopt their dogs and cats as pets.

Instead of giving the animals homes, the man sold them to Barbara Ruggiero, a Sylmar woman who is licensed by the federal government to sell animals to research laboratories, said Gary S. Olsen, the department's district supervisor in North Hollywood. Olsen's department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are investigating, Olsen said.

Among the places that Ruggiero has sold animals is Cedars Sinai.

Site of Past Protests

The activists, led by Last Chance for Animals President Chris DeRose, demanded to see the research labs at Cedars' Halper Research and Clinic Building, a facility on Beverly Boulevard that has been the site of past protests by the activist group. DeRose entered the building and spoke with a guard in the lobby while other guards shut the front door.

"We want to see those animals," a woman demanded.

"I want to see my dog," another shouted.

Suddenly, the front door flew open as two security guards forced DeRose outside. The three men fell and started fighting in a patch of ivy as a crowd of 15 activists and bystanders shouted for the fighting to stop.

Other activists hit the guards with signs. One woman kicked a guard in the back. By the time it was all over several guards and activists had wrestled on the ground.

Finally, a paramedic unit was called to the scene by a bystander across the street. Paramedics examined DeRose for injuries, put him in a neck brace, placed him on a stretcher and hoisted him into an ambulance.

"Where are you taking him?" asked Lucille Dillon, a group member.

"Cedars-Sinai," a paramedic replied.

"Oh, you're kidding," Dillon said.

DeRose, an actor who has been removed by police from past protests at Cedars-Sinai, was admitted to the center's emergency room for X-rays. He was examined and released. His injuries were described as minor.

Ron Wise, a Cedars-Sinai spokesman, said the center will not let Last Chance for Animals enter its research laboratories because "we can't allow any sort of rampage in that facility." He said the medical center would work with the USDA or other agencies investigating what happened to the animals that the San Fernando families say they gave to the man.

Olsen said the man could face criminal charges for taking the animals from pet owners under false pretenses. Authorities have identified the man but have not spoken with him. His name was not released.

Pet owners and the activists traced pets to two kennels owned by Ruggiero in Sun Valley--Budget Boarding on Bradley Avenue and Comfy Kennels, a block away on Norris Avenue. A small group of pet owners broke into Comfy Kennels Monday night and recovered five dogs they said they had given to the man.

"I got my two dogs back, but some people were not that lucky," said Frieda Marchese of North Hollywood.

It is not known if any of the animals the man sold to Ruggiero ended up in research labs, Olsen said.

Ruggiero could not be reached for comment.

However, Olsen said Ruggiero had sold 78 animals to Cedars-Sinai, Loma Linda University and a Veterans Administration facility in Sepulveda since she obtained her dealer's license from the USDA last October.

That announcement at a news conference at the East Valley Animal Shelter sent members of Last Chance for Animals off to Cedars-Sinai.

The man, who told pet owners that he owned a 10-acre ranch in the Valley, was paid $20 for dogs and $10 for cats by Ruggiero. Olsen said Ruggiero told investigators that the man did not work for her.

Olsen said pet owners should use caution when offering their animals for adoption. "If they say they have a 10-acre ranch, go and see that 10-acre ranch," he said.

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