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Two months after the U.S. Department of Agriculture raided the entertainment industry’s top animal training facility, investigating allegations of multiple violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, the agency has issued a preliminary report.
The raid occurred Jan. 4, shortly after The Hollywood Reporter informed the USDA of a complaint filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which claimed that the Acton, Calif.-based facility, Birds & Animals Unlimited — whose credits range form Game of Thrones to Harry Potter — had not provided proper shelter, nutrition and medical treatment to animals under its care.
Now that the report is in, both sides are spinning.
The advocacy group’s explosive initial accusations, which were accompanied by video and photo material shared with THR, included pigs with overgrown hooves, animals deprived of food, dogs living in substandard kennels and a kangaroo with falsified records dying after being unable to eat because it an untreated broken jaw. BAU described PETA’s exposé as factually specious and “misleading.”
The USDA inspector’s report addressed two of the issues, dinging BAU for a pig with overgrown hooves and lameness in its hindquarters who it felt would’ve been better served by more frequent attention from a veterinarian, as well as for keeping its German shepherds outside without blankets (temperatures in the area during the winter can drop to the mid-40s). After a separate, routinely scheduled visit Jan. 17 PETA took issue with a pair of uncovered fluorescent light fixtures in a cat housing facility since, in the event of breakage, “glass particles can fall into the enclosures and injure the animals.”
BAU’s attorney Jonathan Pink tells THR the facility “has now put into place a system for trimming of hooves with increased frequency” but defends its decision to withhold blankets from the German shepherds as a thoughtful policy, not an issue of neglect, since the material may be swallowed and “can cause intestinal blockage.”
Generally, he noted, considering the advocacy group’s initial allegations were so “broad and wide-ranging,” that it was “a vindication” that the agency “came back with a single call to action to trim the hooves more frequently,” a reference to other PETA allegations that were not addressed in the USDA report.
Not so fast, declares PETA. “That the USDA’s initial response to PETA’s complaint does not address BAU’s depriving animals of food to train them and its manager’s admitted fabrication of required records does not mean the agency is not investigating those findings,” says rep Lisa Lange, who contends state wildlife and local animal control departments are also probing the facility. “The feds and other officials are looking more closely at BAU now — as should production companies and anyone who cares about animals.”
But after hearing PETA’s contentions, Pink was quick to shoot back. “While PETA may wish to rewrite the USDA report for its own self-promotion purposes, the report as written by the USDA says nothing of the sort, and any suggestion to the contrary is false and defamatory,” he wrote in a long response. “BAU objects to PETA’s terroristic tactics and to PETA’s spreading of false statements.”
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