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Humane Society of Southern Arizona fires former state legislator over small animal controversy

A former Arizona lawmaker has been fired as CEO of an animal welfare group after dozens of small animals ended up unaccounted for.

The Humane Society of Southern Arizona on Thursday announced the termination of CEO Steve Farley. A chief operating officer, meanwhile, has resigned.

Officials with the San Diego Humane Society transported more than 300 small animals to their Tucson counterparts due to overcrowding in August. These included guinea pigs, rats, hamsters and rabbits.

Within a few weeks, welfare advocates in San Diego began to question the animals’ whereabouts after noticing no social media promotion for hundreds of animals up for adoption. The San Diego Humane Society then pressed the Southern Arizona Humane Society for more information.

Upon arrival in Tucson, the animals were given to a local private rescue group in Maricopa County, according to a Sept. 30 statement from the Humane Society of Southern Arizona board.

Nina Thompson is with the San Diego Humane Society and shared her thoughts on the possible fate of the animals.

“I think there's definitely some fear. We're holding on to hope for the best, but there's definitely a fear that these animals did not meet a good fate at this point," she said. 

The southern Arizona group later discovered the man operating the local rescue group was not properly licensed. In addition, the man’s brother owns a reptile farm that sells frozen and live animals for snake food.

Investigation is ongoing

In a written statement, Farley said he had no direct involvement in the transportation or placement of the animals and that “subsequent allegations have been very disturbing to me.”

The southern Arizona group’s board has hired a third-party investigator and the probe is ongoing.

Farley, a former Democratic candidate for governor and Tucson mayor, served in the state Senate from 2013-2019. He was with the Humane Society of Southern Arizona since February 2020.

Thompson also shared her thoughts on accountability and transparency the San Diego Humane Society wants. 

“Accountability and transparency will show us documentation — simple documentation of where these animals went. We want to see a positive outcome for all of our animals," she said.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to clarify that the San Diego Humane Society began questioning the Humane Society of Southern Arizona about the whereabouts of the animals several weeks after the transfer, after questions were raised by animal welfare advocates in San Diego.

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Ignacio Ventura is a reporter for KJZZ. He graduated from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing and a minor in news media and society.