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Local rescuers say questions remain over missing animals at Humane Society of Southern AZ

Local activists say questions still remain after a few hundred small animals went missing following their transfer from San Diego to Tucson. The Arizona facility originally said it would adopt the animals out to Tucson families. 

The San Diego Humane Society transferred more than 300 small animals, like hamsters, mice and gerbils, to the Humane Society of Southern Arizona back in August. 

But animal rescue volunteer Kelly Paolisso says she and other activists noticed many of the animals were not being posted for adoption. 

"You don’t like lose 318 animals, and then they had claimed to adopt them out, and then we said, 'then show us pictures, show us how you did it,' because in a city of 3 million, we were not able to get them adopted out," she said. 

As Arizona Public Media  first reported, the Arizona shelter said the animals were transferred to a "small, family-run group." Paolisso and others later identified the facility as the Fertile Turtle — an Apache Junction operation that appears to sell snakes and other reptiles.

Paolisso says she worries the animals were used as feed. She and other activists worked to bring some of the animals back to San Diego. But more than 250 are still unaccounted for. She says people in San Diego, especially those who fostered the animals before their transfer, are still reeling.

"There were a lot of fosters who did not want to put their animals on the transfer, they said, 'we will keep them here,' and they said, 'no, you have to put them on the truck," she said. "So those people are living with that guilt. I know a lot of people look at it and say, 'oh, they're just hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs,' but people get attached."

Former state legislator Steve Farley  has since been firedfrom his role as the Humane Society of Southern Arizona's CEO. The group's programs manager Christian Gonzalez has also resigned. Fertile Turtle did not respond to requests for comment.

Alisa Reznick is a senior field correspondent covering stories across southern Arizona and the borderlands for the Tucson bureau of KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.