BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A series of emails shows the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine ordered cats and dogs from a Baton Rouge animal shelter as though they were “takeout pizza,” an attorney said Thursday, May 9. The animal shelter disputes that, saying the animals it provided to LSU had either “intractable” health or behavioral problems that prevented them from being adopted.
Some of the animals were still alive when delivered to LSU for use by veterinary school students, according to a series of emails attorney, Jill Craft, provided to WAFB. In one of the emails, from October of 2018, the LSU Vet School told Companion Animal Alliance (CAA) shelter staff that LSU “is looking for at least 15 cat bodies from which we would need the heads from.”
“They do not need to be alive when they get here and we can also put them down here if needed,” the email said.
Craft says the emails were obtained by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) through a public records request. Craft provided the emails to WAFB Thursday afternoon, shortly after filing a response in district court on behalf of her client, who is accused of defamation.
Craft is representing Desiree Bender, who briefly worked for CAA and says she was fired for refusing to continue providing the animals to LSU. Bender is being sued by two CAA employees, who claim she has defamed them in her public statements about the animal exchanges.
“Ms. Bender learned the animals were being sold at a rate of $40 per live animal and $20 per dead animal,” the legal response filed Thursday stated.
Bender claims CAA was not making a strong enough effort to find homes for the animals so it could keep making money by selling the animals to LSU. In a January of 2018 email to LSU, CAA confirmed LSU was seeking a batch of live dogs. The email said: “Good morning. This is Allison from Dr. Littlefield’s anatomy lab here at LSU. I tried calling this morning, but couldn’t get through. So I wanted to send a quick email as a backup. I am checking to confirm animals for next week. We will need them for Tuesday.”
CAA replied four minutes later, saying: “Thank you for the friendly reminder. I’ll have dogs for Dr. Littlefield Tuesday. She wants them brought to her live, correct?”
In another email, LSU confirmed it was looking for a “second batch” of dogs.
“The group needs to be freshly dead, so we can put them down here to help with timing,” the July 2018 email said.
In one instance, CAA appeared to have run into trouble fulfilling LSU’s request for eight dogs. In a May 5, 2018 email to LSU, the Companion Animal Alliance said: “Right now, I definitely have 5. The others that are scheduled are aggressive bite case dogs (that have completed their rabies quarantine). I’ll try to find 3 more for you.”
In a July 2018 email, LSU said it needed “live dogs” delivered in the range of 45 to 60 pounds. CAA replied that one of the dogs was only a “38 pound lab mix” and asked if that would work instead. In that same July 2018 email exchange, LSU clarified what types of dogs it needed: “Temperament does not matter for us as they will be sedated upon entering the lab. It is easier for us if they have fairly short hair, but I would rather take a longer haired dog than to not get the animals we need for one last batch.”
In another email, CAA informed LSU they could no longer deliver a dog they had promised to LSU because its owner had shown up at the shelter to claim it.
“They are ordering animals as though it is pepperoni pizza, hold the anchovies,” Craft said during an interview Thursday. Craft says her client has not defamed anyone. “Truth is an absolute defense,” she said.
Craft says when her client refused to continue providing animals to LSU, CAA offered to give her $15,000 in severance pay if she resigned. Her client declined the offer, however, and was then fired, Craft said. Craft provided WAFB with a copy of the proposed severance agreement she says CAA gave her client.
LSU School of Veterinary Medicine Communications Manager Ginger Guttner told WAFB Thursday that LSU “continues to receive cadavers from this shelter.”
“The cadavers are used to teach anatomy to veterinary students whose life work is dedicated to serving and saving animals. The cadavers we receive are animals that have already been scheduled by the shelter for a specific purpose (usually because of severe health or behavioral issues, but overcrowding is sometimes a factor),” Guttner said in an emailed statement.
Guttner said LSU no longer receives live animals from CAA. She also said WAFB should contact CAA for more information about “how the shelter determines which animals are selected.”
CAA Board Chair Christel Slaughter posted a statement on the group’s website: “Our mission has always been to find forever homes and return lost pets to their families and, most importantly, to treat animals humanely and compassionately. Recently, a former employee who was terminated for cause has made untrue allegations regarding our partnership with the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, calling into question CAA’s dedication to serving this community with integrity.”
Slaughter says no animal from CAA has ever been euthanized to “fill an order” from LSU.
Click here to read the full email exchange.