Trendy pet diet of raw wild game.
Feeding Fido or Fluffy a raw, all-natural cuisine could land you in the slammer for up to six months if you’re not careful where you buy the deer, duck or other meat.
The trendy pet diet, called “prey model,” in which owners try to feed their pets critters similar to what they’d hunt in the wild, has resulted in a surge in illegal sales of raw wild game online, Florida wildlife investigators say.
No Floridian has gone to jail so far for trying to buy illegally obtained raw game online, but investigators in a year-old wildlife cyber crimes unit say they’re seeing more people both soliciting it — a misdemeanor — and selling it — a felony.
People caught selling raw meat without a permit face up to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine. Those buying the illegally obtained game face up to six months in jail and a $500 fine.
In 2010, its first year, Florida Fish and Wildlife’s Internet Crimes Unit logged 177 arrests and 92 warnings for cases involving illegally buying or selling wildlife or raw game meat online, some of it for pets.
Pet owners go on Craigslist and eBay, asking where they can score a squirrel, pheasant, rabbit, goose, duck, chicken, just about any game to feed their cats and dogs. Some seek raw fish, meaty bones and organs such as hearts, livers and kidneys — everything a growing carnivore needs.
“It’s happening nationwide,” said Lt. George Wilson, head of the Internet Crimes Unit. “The philosophy behind it is feeding your pet a hormone-free, naturally grazed diet.
“We’re seeing solicitations for wild ducks, anything wild.”
The Internet provides a way around having to pay taxes or pay for licenses to sell wild game, investigators say.
But these Internet outlaws skirt regulations that ensure meat is sanitary and comes from game hunted in-season. They threaten to create black markets for wildlife similar to what existed for alligators 50 years ago, Wilson said.
Going raw may also have gotten a boost from the toxic melamine scare in 2007, when pet food imported from China killed thousands of cats and dogs nationwide, resulting in widespread recalls.
“Those that are unknowledgeable, we’re trying to educate them,” Wilson said.
Illegal sales of deer have been going on in Florida for decades. Now, some of the meat goes to the dogs, and the Internet makes an old crime high-tech.
Fish and Wildlife started its Internet Crimes Unit in late 2009, in response to an upswing in wildlife cyber crimes, said Katie Purcell, a spokeswoman with the department. “Basically, our law enforcement efforts were trying to stay up to speed with the methods violators are using,” she said via e-mail.
Because it’s still a relatively small market, raw wild game for pets can be tough to come by legally.
“It’s the unlicensed people that would be trafficking them,” said Jim Deason, owner of Sweetwater Plantation, a farm in Bristol, Fla., that sells live deer for breeding. “Any of the people that I know, they’re pretty above board on things like that. If there’s anybody selling game, it’s probably going to be backwoodsy folks.”
So how’s a pet owner to get Muffy to go organic, legally. And where might one find raw wild deer meat for their pooch?
“I don’t know of anybody that sells that,” Deason said. “You can get it from New Zealand.”
“It’s a big process to get certified by the USDA,” he added.
An Internet search shows some who adhere to the prey model tap ethnic markets, looking for organs, or small, independent grocery stores, seeking turkey necks and chicken backs.
Price may be one reason driving pet owners online.
“It’s more expensive. It’s not quite double the price, but it really depends on what you’re buying,” said Pete Bandre, owner of Incredible Pets in Melbourne. He doesn’t sell raw game meats but does carry established brands of all-natural pet foods.
So far, all incidents in which people were buying illegally obtained raw game for their pets in Florida have only been given warnings, Wilson said. That won’t last forever.
“They’re very well meaning,” he said of pet owners who aspire to the prey model diet.
“Our interest here is to protect our natural resources. If this is allowed to go unchecked, it could create a black market that would impact the populations of wildlife in Florida.”
Via USA Today