Trial Opens for 3 Charged With Theft in Pet Sales to Labs
Three former San Fernando Valley residents tricked owners of cats and dogs into giving away their pets and then sold the animals to medical laboratories for research, the prosecution charged as the three went on trial Tuesday in San Fernando Superior Court.
Their defense attorney argued that the defendants were being persecuted by a militant animal rights group for legitimate sales of animals that had been abandoned by their owners.
Barbara Ruggiero, Frederick John Spero and Ralf Jacobsen face charges of felony theft of an animal for medical research purposes and conspiracy to steal an animal for medical research.
“The defendants knowingly exploited the pet owners and their pets,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Susan Chasworth said in an opening statement. “This is not about the morality or the propriety of animal experimentation. This is a theft trial.”
Ruggiero, 27, owned two now-defunct kennels in Sun Valley, Comfy Kennel and Budget Boarding. She and Spero also operated Biosphere, a company that was licensed by the U. S. Department of Agriculture to sell animals to research facilities, Chasworth said.
Jacobsen answered newspaper ads seeking new homes for pets and told the owners that the animals would live on a ranch, Chasworth said. The prosecution alleges that Jacobsen sold the animals to Biosphere, to be resold to laboratories.
Lewis A. Watnick, Ruggiero’s attorney, alleged that the “entire case was initiated and orchestrated by Last Chance for Animals, a militant and far-left animal rights group” that opposes research use of animals.
Watnick contends that Ruggiero sold animals that had been abandoned at her kennels by their owners.
“It is not inexpensive to operate a kennel and board animals. . . . Ms. Ruggiero just could not afford the cost incurred by people who left their animals and never came back,” he said.
“It is not a crime to furnish animals for research,” he added, noting that Ruggiero had a license to make such sales.
Bill Dyer, a spokesman for Last Chance for Animals, said his antivivisection group brought the case to the attention of local authorities after receiving complaints from pet owners.
“Over a million animals are stolen in the United States,” he said, adding that most cases are never prosecuted. “This is one of the rare instances where it’s come this far.”