The antithesis of 'a good home'
Feb 20, 2006
You will never leave your dog alone in the yard again.The HBO documentary "Dealing Dogs," which debuts tomorrow at 10 p.m., puts an undercover camera lens on a sleazy world where beloved household companions can be snatched up to be experimented on in cold steel cages, and dogs are shot in the head as casually as you order a "half-caff mocha macchiato."
Its lead character is C.C. Baird, a good ole boy from Williford, Ark. A pastor at the Church of Christ, Baird tended to a different flock most days: a compound of up to 600 dogs called Martin Creek Kennel. Licensed as a Class B dealer by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which allowed him to buy and sell animals, Baird supplied universities and laboratories with dogs for medical research.
Filmed surreptitiously by "Pete," a sunglass-wearing animal-rights activist who worked at Martin Creek for more than six months, the footage documents what he calls "a little bit of hell on earth": The kennels are cleaned with high-pressure hoses, saturating the freezing, sometimes malnourished dogs and sending excrement flying into food bowls and water dishes. Housed four to a kennel, the cramped canines fight each other, sometimes to the death; the stiffened corpses are tossed on the "ex-dog" pile, then covered with a board.
In one scene, a worker refuses to tend to a dying beagle because he had been late for an Easter egg hunt; by morning, the dog joins the growing pile. In another vignette, a Martin Creek employee explains how heartworm-positive dogs are shot and gutted so the valuable worms can be sold to researchers.
Last Chance for Animals, the animal-rights group that undertook the investigation, visits the trench-lined field where the dogs are butchered. (Actually, they trespass, not out of character for actor-founder Chris DeRose, who has done jail time for entering animal-research labs without permission.) A knife lies atop a blood-stained table, the surrounding grass littered with internal organs. In the nearby trench, maggots writhe over heaps of dead German shepherds and beagles and Labs.
Through it all, a well-fed Baird swaggers, haggling at Mississippi flea markets for dogs he buys for $15 and $20 each, then resells to biomedical researchers for $250. Here we meet "bunchers," shadowy figures who obtain animals in questionable ways Baird doesn't inquire about, though the Animal Welfare Act requires Class B dealers to document the origins of animals they acquire.
"We have quite a few ways of picking those pooches up," chuckles one buncher, adding that rich residential neighborhoods are a favorite of some of his colleagues. Responding to "free to a good home" ads in newspapers is another.
If you manage to stomach "Pete's" video diary of blood and neglect and general inhumanity, there is a karmic payoff: After the Arkansas attorney general looked into the case - an investigation that took years - Baird and his wife had their licenses revoked in 2005 and were fined $262,700 - the largest civil penalty ever levied against a Class B dealer under the Animal Welfare Act. Baird also surrendered 700 acres of property worth more than $1 million, including his home and kennels.
But offscreen, there are plenty more places where outrage deserves overnight parking privileges. While Baird was, in the words of the scatalogically prone "Pete," "the biggest, baddest, -- B dealer in America," he was hardly the only one. The budget-battered USDA is hard-pressed to adequately inspect and monitor all the nation's C.C. Bairds. "Pete" might again give up veganism in an effort to look the part and infiltrate another Class B dealership, but he wouldn't have to if federal oversight were anywhere near adequate.
The buck shouldn't stop there, however. Class B dealers would not exist if they were not meeting a demand. What of the universities and research organizations that purchase these animals? Ethical arguments over animal experimentation aside, shouldn't these corporate and educational institutions go so far as to check and inspect the suppliers of their research animals? Don't they have an ethical obligation to ensure that the dogs they are experimenting on, and in some cases killing, are not someone's beloved companion?
As for Baird, who has since resigned his pastorship, he is due to be sentenced this winter on the criminal charge and faces up to 10 years in prison and a $1.2 million fine.
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