When the San Diego Humane Society in California shipped greater than 300 rabbits, guinea pigs and rats to the Humane Society of Southern Arizona in Tucson over the summer season, it believed that they might be adopted as pets.

However a lot of the animals might have met a grislier destiny, which has led to outrage, anguish and a police investigation.

In accordance with officers at each humane societies, the 323 animals arrived in Tucson on Aug. 7 however weren’t taken into the shelter there.

As a substitute, the Humane Society of Southern Arizona transferred the animals to a person named Colten Jones, who runs a enterprise within the Phoenix space referred to as the Fertile Turtle, which sells reside and frozen animals for reptile feed, each humane societies mentioned in a joint statement.

Officers at each humane societies mentioned they have been investigating who organized the switch and what, precisely, had occurred to the animals. The police mentioned that they have been additionally investigating the case as a “doable fraud” however that nobody had been charged.

However a chunk of doable proof concerning the destiny of the animals emerged this month when a Tucson information station, KVOA, reported on a text message that Mr. Jones despatched on Aug. 8, a day after the animals arrived in Tucson.

“Do you’ve the power to freeze off a bunch of guinea pigs and or rabbits?” Mr. Jones wrote to a different man, who didn’t wish to be publicly recognized, KVOA reported. “I don’t have the manpower or labor to have the ability to do it in time for the present and it’s an excessive amount of time for me.”

The present apparently referred to an upcoming reptile present in Pomona, Calif., in keeping with KVOA.

Mr. Jones didn’t reply to cellphone and textual content messages searching for remark.

The Southern Arizona and San Diego humane societies mentioned of their joint assertion that they have been outraged by “this newest piece of knowledge that clearly signifies Mr. Jones’s intention to make use of these animals as feed as an alternative of discovering them adoptive properties.”

Gary Weitzman, the president and chief govt of the San Diego Humane Society, referred to as it “essentially the most horrible textual content I’ve ever seen in my life.”

“It’s simply essentially the most unthinkable final result,” he mentioned, including that if he had recognized the animals might have been was reptile meals, he would by no means have agreed to ship them to Arizona.

“Nothing like this in my 30 years of animal welfare has occurred earlier than,” he mentioned. “It’s simply horrifying.”

He mentioned the San Diego Humane Society was exploring a lawsuit and had employed a non-public investigator.

“We’ve requested him to do a broad sweep,” Mr. Weitzman mentioned. “What was the motivation right here?”

Robert Garcia, the chairman of the board of the Humane Society of Southern Arizona, mentioned his group had additionally employed an unbiased investigator and was contemplating authorized motion in opposition to Mr. Jones and unnamed former workers “who might have been concerned.”

In October, the group mentioned that it had fired its chief executive, Steve Farley, a former Arizona state lawmaker, and that its chief working officer, Christian Gonzalez, had resigned. Each had “overseen” the switch of the animals, Mr. Garcia mentioned.

“The board decided that there was horrible negligence on the a part of former management to correctly vet the place these animals have been going and to make sure that, wherever they have been going, they might be adopted out as pets,” Mr. Garcia mentioned.

Mr. Farley didn’t reply to requests for remark. He advised The Related Press in an announcement final month that he had no direct involvement within the transportation or placement of the animals and that “subsequent allegations have been very disturbing to me.”

Mr. Gonzalez didn’t reply to requests for remark.

Mr. Garcia mentioned that the Humane Society of Southern Arizona was contending with “betrayal and in addition heartbreak.”

Considerations concerning the animals started to emerge quickly after they arrived in Tucson, and native animal welfare activists started to ask about their well being and well-being, Mr. Garcia mentioned.

As issues concerning the animals mounted, Mr. Jones’s brother, Trevor Jones, who had helped the Humane Society of Southern Arizona with some earlier animal adoptions, returned 64 of them to the society on Sept. 2, Mr. Garcia mentioned. However the remaining 259 haven’t been recovered, he mentioned.

“Now we have to imagine the animals have been used as feed,” Mr. Garcia mentioned.

Trevor Jones didn’t reply to cellphone messages searching for touch upon Monday.

The Human Society of Southern Arizona, Mr. Garcia mentioned, has employed a brand new chief govt.

“It is extremely necessary for the humane society to proceed on with its mission,” Mr. Garcia mentioned, “and we ask for endurance as we work to rebuild that belief.”

Mr. Weitzman mentioned that individuals who labored in animal welfare have been indignant and upset to assume that the animals might need been was meals for reptiles.

“We simply need the reality and accountability,” he mentioned. “We’re not on the lookout for the rest.”

Susan C. Beachy contributed analysis.

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