USDA Threatens Small Business Owner with $450,000 in Fines

Without much fanfare, Dean Moyer has raised gerbils and hamsters for 12 years.  He’s sold them to distributors who, in turn, have sold them to pet store owners across the country.  Chances are good that the pet hamster your neighbor’s kid always carries in his hand came from Moyer’s Sand Valley Farms, Inc.  But that could change soon if the folks at the USDA have their way.

“Basically, the USDA just wants me to close up,” Moyer said.  “They just want me to get out of the hamster business.”

During the week of July 15, Moyer received a “really thick registered letter” from officials at the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the USDA’s investigative and enforcement services agency.  Inside the envelope was a “Settlement Agreement” dated two days earlier.  Under the boldfaced subhead, “Why You Are Receiving This Letter,” Moyer found an explanation that began this way:

We believe you violated the Animal Welfare Act (7 U.S.C. § 2131 et seq.) (AWA), as described in the attached Settlement Agreement.  our agency, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), is responsible for enforcing the AWA, and other agriculture laws that help prevent the spread of animal and plant pests and diseases, and ensure the welfare of animals.

After providing you with an opportunity for a hearing, we may impose civil penalties of up to $10,000, or other sanctions, for each violation described in this Settlement Agreement.  We are offering you the opportunity to resolve this matter by paying an amount that is much lower than the maximum civil penalty.”

The letter went on to list 45 alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act dating back to Sept. 16, 2009.

Among other things, inspectors reported finding dead animals on the premises and a strong ammonia odor due to inadequate ventilation of the 10,000-square-foot facility.

Moyer explained, however, that anyone familiar with hamsters knows 50 dead animals among 6,000 live ones on the premises in a given week is neither unusual nor unheard of.  Similarly, he said hamster-savvy folks know the strong odor associated with hamster urine is virtually impossible to get rid of.

During a Monday afternoon phone conversation, Moyer shared his assessment of the dire situation he faces today as president of a 21-year-old family business headquartered at 83 Mouse Track Lane in Richfield, a community one hour north of Harrisburg in central Pennsylvania.

The conversation began with a humorous bent.

“Gerbils are very, very, very expensive right now if you want to buy any,” said Moyer.  “It’ll cost you $450,000 right now if you want a gerbil — I’ve got a fine to pay!”

The rest of the conversation was more serious and focused on the content of the USDA letter.

After answering the “why” question, USDA officials offered a description of how Moyer can waive his right to a hearing and pay a penalty — conveniently, no less, by check, money order or credit card — of $22,143 by Aug. 29.  It even offered a payment plan if he’s unable to fork over the entire amount in one lump sum.

Sarah L. Conant

Believing he has done nothing to warrant such fines, Moyer said he called a phone number on the signature-free letter a couple of days after receiving it and eventually connected with Sarah Conant, a USDA bureaucrat with a very long title — Chief, Animal Health and Welfare Enforcement Branch, Investigative and Enforcement Services.  If you recognize the name, it’s because I’ve written about Conant on more than one occasion.

Conant was the focus of my June 27, 2011, post, Animal Rights Activism Fuels USDA Rabbit Chase.  In addition, she earned noteworthy mentions in my Chasing Rabbits series which, among other things, chronicled John Dollarhite’s battle with overzealous federal regulators in tiny Nixa, Mo. [Hint: Family Facing $4 Million in Fines for Selling Bunnies is a good place to start.]  Finally, her agency figured prominently in my reports about Doug Terranova, a Dallas-based animal trainer who I described as caught up in a “legal circus” last summer.

Then unaware of Conant’s history as highlighted in the cases above, Moyer said he asked her what he could do to get the fine reduced and told her, “There’s no way I can afford a $22,000 fine.”

When Conant replied by telling him that $22,000 IS a reduced amount,” Moyer said he couldn’t believe what he was hearing and asked her, “What do you mean that’s a reduced amount?”

“She said, ‘We can fine you $10,000 per violation,’” he said, noting that the letter listed 45 violations — or $450,000 worth of violations.

Moyer said he literally begged her for mercy and, in turn, she said she would see what she could do.  Apparently, however, she couldn’t — or wouldn’t — do much.  Inspectors are scheduled to return to the business for another inspection Tuesday morning.

Rather than send the local inspector who is both familiar with Moyer’s operation and lives less than 20 miles away, the USDA will likely send inspectors from afar.

Moyer said his last inspection was conducted by two individuals, including one veterinarian, from Youngstown, Ohio.  In order to spend six hours inspecting his facility, they drove four and one-half hours each way and incurred meals, lodging and travel costs at taxpayers’ expense.  Apparently, the USDA has figured out that it’s easier for their inspectors to “lower the boom” on complete strangers.

The long and the short of this situation is this, according to Moyer:  “The way the regulations are written, it’s absolutely impossible for me not to get written up for a violation.”

If the fine isn’t dropped, Moyer’s entire livelihood stands at risk.  He has no other viable source of income to support his wife of 23 years and their four children, two boys and two girls who range in age from 8 to 17.  The income generated by the sale of rats and mice, his original business that began in 1991, simple isn’t enough.

“Potentially, this whole thing could put me out of business,” he said, explaining that he has nine employees dependent upon their jobs at Sand Valley Farms.

Moyer’s business won’t be the first shut down by the USDA.  He said the agency has put at least two other large hamster businesses (i.e., operations that raise 1,000 animals per week or more) out of business in recent years, leaving only three or four large firms in the entire United States.  In addition to those, only one- or two-dozen small raisers exist nationwide.

In addition to hosting inspectors tomorrow, Moyer said he’s also meeting to discuss his options with representatives of The Cavalry Group, a St. Louis-based group dedicated to fighting the radical animal rights agenda.

Bob McCarty is the author of Three Days In August (Oct '11) and THE CLAPPER MEMO (May '13). To learn more about either book or to place an order, click on the graphic above.

Bob McCarty is the author of Three Days In August (Oct ’11) and THE CLAPPER MEMO (May ’13). To learn more about either book or to place an order, click on the graphic above.

This entry was posted in Animal Rights, Dean Moyer - Sand Valley Farms, Limited Government and tagged , , , , by BobMcCarty. Bookmark the permalink.

About BobMcCarty

A native of Enid, Oklahoma, Bob McCarty graduated from Oklahoma State University with a degree in journalism in 1984. During the next two decades, he served stints as an Air Force public affairs officer, a political campaign manager, a technology sales consultant and a public relations professional. Today, Bob spends most of his time researching topics, writing about them and publishing those writings. When he’s not writing online, he’s working as an author. Bob’s first published book, Three Days In August: A U.S. Army Special Forces Soldier’s Fight For Military Justice (October 2011), chronicles the life story and wrongful conviction of Sgt. 1st Class Kelly A. Stewart, a highly-decorated Green Beret combat veteran. In his second book, THE CLAPPER MEMO (May 2013), Bob connects the dots between a memo signed by James R. Clapper Jr. — the man now serving as our nation’s top intelligence official — and the deaths of dozens of Americans in Afghanistan at the hands of our so-called Afghan “allies” wearing the uniforms of their nation’s military, police and security forces. Bob is married, has three sons and lives in the St. Louis area. Bob is available for media and blogger interviews. Simply drop a comment here, leaving your name, organization, phone number, e-mail address and area of interest. He’ll try to respond as soon as possible.

22 thoughts on “USDA Threatens Small Business Owner with $450,000 in Fines

  1. OMG. I suspect this is a part of Obama’s attack on “evil business owners”. WE MUST GET THIS NAZI OUT IN 2012. I’m optimistic. Remember the republican rout in 2010. I predict Obama out in a landslide in 2012. Moreover, in the words of Reagen, “government is the problem.” Can you think of a better example???

  2. The Animal Rights Extremists are on the attack. With 6,000 rodents & finding only about 50 dead is showing exceptional care for these animal. Rodents also stink. They have extremely strong urine & musk glands. The males usually smell far worse than females. I don’t care how well you clean, sanatize, & sterilize an area with a large rodent population, in about an hour, it will stink!!! You can bathe all of the rodents & they will still stink!!! (you’ll also be bit about a jillion times as rodents don’t like baths) Animals, including humans, have body odors. This is just a b*llsh*t attempt to stop animal breeding & allowing humans to own animals. That is the goal of the AR Extremists, to end ALL human/animal contact. To reach those means, they will force sterilizations of animals, seize animals in illegal raids, & execute many, many animals. I will pray for these folks & their rodents as they are part of what built America, independent business folks who pay taxes,hire people, give jobs & are the backbones of so many businesses.

  3. It you are not one of Eric Holder’s people, the federal government is coming to get you.

  4. Pingback: Feds might shut down pet business because the animals do what comes naturally « Dan from Squirrel Hill's Blog

  5. Pingback: USDA still employees HSUS plant Sarah L. Conant - Homesteading Today

  6. they don’t call it a rats nest for nothing//.. hamsters .. mice and rats have a distinct odor.. so do humans and I say this stinks right up to the top of the USDA of HSUS control of our business and food supply. Legislators have to be educated about the animal rights agenda. They have for way too long been paid off and duped wiht “awards” and checks. Sus stein is gone one down. We need “pest control” in APHIS and the USDA

  7. Sarah L. Conant was a litigation lawyer employed by HSUS before being appointed to USDA/APHIS. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, has a wife, Christie, who is running for the Senate in IA. HSUS donated to her campaign fund.

  8. Well – we KNOW he didn’t build that business on his own, just ask the Commander-in-Chief. Amazing then – this business was BUILT by a government agency, isn’t that what is meant? and – now a government agency is putting it out of business. Guess we have enough jobs in the states to warrant putting 11 more people on unemployment!!!
    Once again – the do nothing ARses and government officials are to blame for another business destroyed AND civil and personal rights being destroyed. Amazing – the perpetrators think they’re in the right!!! :(

  9. I suppose this means if Mr. Moyer is put out of business, the rodents will all be imported from Mexico or China. Throwing an honest businessman supporting his family and paying his taxes to the wolves won’t stop hamster breeding. It just won’t be a US citizen creating jobs for his fellow citizens and no taxes will be paid to the US govt.

  10. read the article page, specifically HSUS, The Mob and the Black Egg article. HSUS is building their play to pay racket from eggs to hamsters… from ham to puppies. And OBAMA is backing the monsters, er, mobsters all the way.

  11. This is the most patently ridiculous pile of garbage I’ve ever seen……seriously….the USDA hires an Animal Rights activist from HSUS to
    shut down rodent breeding for hygienic concerns. Give me a break……they’re
    RATS with short tails. They thrive on garbage. Keep them too clean and they DON’T breed……This is why our country has no jobs and now, no small business tomorrow.

  12. One more sign the government is out of control and the crazy animal rights people are out of control too.

    a part of me is all for no more hunting or trapping and just let the animals breed unstopped until everything is over run.

    But the truth is, we would all starve and the animals would eat us before we could get them back under control. They would destroy our crops – everything. There would be nothing left. But they are too stupid to know that.

  13. Take one look at ole Bob and you can see why Animal Welfare persons want to control what people do. it is unfortunate that we have to legislate stupidity, but here is just another case in hand.

  14. Wow. I’m so stunned some of you guys are even intelligent enough to use a computer. This is an EXTREMELY biased article, obviously by someone who also writes for Fox News or some other insane organization, and immediately everyone jumps on the bandwagon, blames Obama, and assumes that “animal rights activists” are going crazy. Let me tell you, if this dude claims there were 50 dead gerbils on his property, there were probably more like a thousand. It is SO HARD to investigate and shut down cruelty cases, even at their extreme. For this guy to get this letter is proof that he obviously should be shut down. And oh, poor thing, he owes money and now he has to maybe get a job that doesn’t exploit animals. How truly awful. My condolences to him and to his family, because he’s obviously the victim here. Not the thousands of animals under his care who are suffering.

  15. Wow Mel. You clearly have no concept at all in the reality of things. I really am questioning my thought process of even responding to such an idiotic statement as you have made. Clearly you have no concept in the reality of things. Rats, mice, gerbils, hamsters et al STINK no matter how much you clean.
    And if you loose a litter that can be a total of six to eight right there adding up the count.
    The USDA has been infiltrated by AR extremists such as yourself and now it is not about animal welfare but rather that no animal should be owned as a pet, service animal or whatever.. so if you look up you will see you are on the wrong page. The Calvary Group is about protecting the rights of those of us that do own animals. I am animal welfare, not animal rights. Take your AR rhetoric somewhere else please

  16. Does anyone really need to raise 10,000 hamsters? Is this the factory-farm of hamsters. This guy is a crazy hoarder. There is no wat the hamster supply could remain static. He’d have to kill them or eat them, as fast as new ones are born. No kid wants an old hamster. They want younger, cuter ones. This guy must be crazy from all these hamsters.

  17. I work in a research facility that holds thousands of mice. it does not smell of urine for several reasons. First, the air handling system changes the air many times an hour. Second, the animals are removed from their dirty cages and given clean cages once a week. The dirty cages are cleaned in a very large “dishwasher” with very hot and soapy water. Third, every cage is looked at every day. Dead animals are removed and placed in a freezer, waiting for pickup by a company that deals with them. I don’t know how many dead animals there are, but I seldom see one. if an inspector were to enter, I doubt that s/he would see three in the entire facility. Sometimes litters do die. They are then often eaten by their mothers (a habit of mice to eat the dead ones as a way of keeping their nests clean). I do not find that the mice are dirty smelly animals. They seem to have habits that help to keep their areas clean. For example, though they are housed four or five mice to a cage the size of a shoebox, they tend to pee and poop in one corner, leaving the rest of the cage pretty clean. They all sleep together in a pile at the other end of the cage. I would guess that the facility written about in this article may not have the same standards that our facility has and that the article may be a bit biased. I also think that it’s difficult to come to any conclusion about whether the govt inspectors are correct or not in this case, as none of us have gone to this facility to inspect it ourselves. Although it’s true that inspectors can be overzealous, it’s also true that some animal breeders are simply not up to snuff. As for the “stupidity” of having a facility inspected by people coming from a distance, one might assume that it’s done that way because, in some cases, local inspectors are in the pay of local businesses. i’m not saying that this is the case here, only that it does sometimes happen, and therefore a facility that is in question might reasonably be inspected, at least once, by inspectors that have no prior relationship with that facility.

  18. The law is wrong. It doesn’t prevent anything. A person that makes their entire living from raising animals would have to raise a lot to make enough to live on. The research facility may be clean and can afford a fancy air system but research facilities have a whole new set of abuses that they perform on animals. Many are run by the government. Notice how mice, etc. are exempt? A health safety criteria needs to be set first. Why doesn’t the gov regulate the abuse of fish who provide caviar for the top 1%? Enforce the laws you have. Right now the dog industry has to police it’s own industry, because the gov doesn’t know how. The way the USDA operates is stupid and unconstitutional. They should be investigated. Why do we need more laws the gov can’t enforce and then chooses to pick on the little guy to look like they are doing something? Tell the gov they work for us!!

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