PHILADELPHIA -- An animal welfare group is calling for an investigation of a large northeastern Pennsylvania ferret breeding facility, saying an undercover worker found hundreds of ill, injured and neglected animals living in inhumane and unsanitary conditions.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released a video Friday purporting to show conditions at the Triple F Farms in Sayre, taken by someone who was hired to work undercover at the facility. The video was first obtained by The Associated Press.
The three-minute video shows ferrets with gaping wounds, internal organs protruding from their rectums, and infected, bloody eyes and mammary glands. Newborn ferrets drag themselves along the floor of the facility after falling through their cages. A mother ferret is seen dragging one of her newborns backward in circles along the perimeter of a cramped cage.
"We had in the past received complaints about this facility ... it was on our radar," but the undercover probe was not initiated by a specific recent complaint, said Daphna Nachminovitch, vice president of PETA's cruelty investigations department. She said the facility holds approximately 6,000 ferrets in 10 cage-filled barns.
The video also shows one dead ferret on the floor that the undercover worker said was run over by an employee pushing a food cart.
Jack Fallenstein, owner of Triple F Farms, declined to comment on the investigation when contacted Friday by The Associated Press. On its website, Triple F says it is a family-owned and operated company that has "been raising fun, fabulous, furry ferrets since 1985."
PETA said the farm supplies ferrets for sale to pet stores, research labs and universities around the world and domestically including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has signed more than $1.5 million worth of contracts with Triple F Farms since 2006.
The animal advocacy group filed formal complaints asking federal, state and county investigators to look into alleged violations of animal welfare and protection laws, medication compounding and handling regulations, and worker health and safety rules.
David Sacks, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said inspectors went to Triple F on Aug. 29 after a meeting with PETA. The farm has three weeks to appeal the USDA inspectors' report, which will not be made public until that process is complete, Sacks said.
A message left Friday the Bradford County district attorney's office was not returned. Pennsylvania Agriculture Department investigators received the complaint and were looking into it, spokeswoman Samantha Elliott Krepps said.
Ferrets are sometimes used for teaching medical residents to insert breathing tubes in premature babies and in influenza-related research because they are susceptible to the same strains of flu as humans.
In addition to the video, the undercover worker's written report describes ferrets denied food and water and dying in barns as hot as 110 degrees; hundreds of newborns left to die on the ground after falling out of their cages; and ferrets of all ages designated for euthanasia left for days in a small cage without medical care.
Methods of disposing of newborn and young ferrets included burying them alive in feces and throwing them into an incinerator, the undercover worker stated, while others were intentionally killed by workers stepping on them and running them over with feed carts.
The report states that the worker, who was employed at Triple F Farms from April to August, did not once see a veterinarian or veterinary technician visit the facility.
"Before they are shipped out for whatever purpose, these ferrets are sterilized and de-scented," Nachminovitch said. "This is a surgery our investigator witnessed being performed like an assembly line by lay people with inadequate procedures, with the same dulled razor blade being used over and over again, with inadequately anesthetized ferrets waking up and being held down."
PETA submitted the undercover worker's video and journal entries to a veterinarian whose practice specializes in helping animal shelters and animal control facilities manage ferrets and other exotic pets. The vet, Susan Brown of Rosehaven Exotic Animal Veterinary Services in Illinois, concluded in her report that "the ferrets at this facility have experienced inhumane and cruel conditions" including poor sanitation, hyperthermia, improper handling and spaying procedures that were "seriously below veterinary standards."
"Ferrets whether injured or ill with a variety of diseases were often left to suffer their fate until death without benefit of medical care," Brown wrote, "including pain management or have their suffering relieved by euthanasia."