A dehydrated rat is shown in an image from PETA, which conducted a two-month undercover operation into a Lake Elsinore exotic animal breeding facility that resulted in felony animal cruelty charges against the manager and owner.
Nearly 20,000 rats and reptiles were found dead or had to be euthanized at a Riverside County pet store supplier, and on Wednesday the company’s manager pleaded not guilty to animal cruelty charges.
The company, a wholesale distributor of exotic snakes, reptiles and other rodents, operates a breeding facility in Lake Elsinore where animals were allegedly tortured, left dead and rotting in their cages or not given needed veterinary care.
In a two-month undercover investigation of Global Captive Breeders of Lake Elsinore by the animal rights group PETA, company manager David Delgado, also known as Jose Magana, 29, was caught on camera beating animals, and throwing one to the ground and shooting it with a BB gun, authorities said.
PETA’s investigation was reported to Riverside County animal control officials, whose December visit to the facility found a “horrendous” smell, decomposing animal corpses, and emaciated and dehydrated live animals, according to affidavits filed in court.
A broken water system left some animals severely dehydrated and others drowned, according to the affidavits.
“The animals were neglected to the point that the suffering is unconscionable,” wrote Animal Control Officer Sheila Risinger in one affidavit.
All of the animals still alive at the facility had to be euthanized because of their conditions, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office said in a news release. More than 18,000 rodents and 560 reptiles were at the facility, Risinger wrote.
This week, PETA claimed victory after charges were announced. It called the facility “hell on earth” for animals.
PETA's video showed rodents with large tumors and bloodied tails, and rats and lizards that had been drowned in their cages. The remains of animals were shown covered in maggots.
Delgado, a Rialto resident, pleaded not guilty Wednesday afternoon at Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta to 106 felony charges of animal cruelty and 11 felony counts of torturing animals, DA's office spokesman John Hall said.
“David Delgado tortured, cruelly killed and mutilated animals constantly,” Risinger wrote.
Delgado had a carbon monoxide chamber in which animals could have been “humanely” euthanized suffering animals, but instead he allegedly killed them violently, Risinger wrote.
Delgado said he could no longer smell the “ammonia and filth” at the facility, the affidavit stated.
Risinger works for Animal Friends of the Valleys, which provides contract animal control services to several cities in Riverside County.
The owner of Global Captive Breeders, Mitchell Steven Behm, 54, faces the same 106 counts of felony animal cruelty as Delgado. Behm was at the facility three to four times per week for several hours each time, according to an affidavit from Risinger seeking a warrant for his arrest.
He told Risinger the facility’s Ball pythons had an incurable disease, the affidavit stated.
Behm said he had taken sick animals to a veteraniarian in Yorba Linda, but that doctor told Risinger that he had not treated any of Behm’s animals in more than a year.
Behm had treated animals himself for “mouth rot” with a mixture of iodine, water and mouthwash, according to the affidavit. No medical records were found showing treatment, the affidavit stated.
Both men were arrested at their respective homes on July 19. Delgado remained in custody at the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside on $50,000 bail Wednesday.
Behm, who lives in the gated unincorporated community of Coto de Caza in Orange County, posted bail and was released July 20. He is due in court Sept. 19.
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