June 17, 2005
More: May 30: Peta Spy

Uncovered, PETA spy says job at Sinclair was ‘tough’
By Pamela Mulumby

Lisa Leitten vows never to forget those "dark days" she spent working at Sinclair Research Center in Callaway County. She grew up with a passion for pets and says her experience at the lab was wrenching.

"I hated going to work every day," Leitten said. "I couldn’t just stand the way animals were treated. "

Leitten, 30, led a double life for the past three years as an undercover agent for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, moving from Missouri to Texas to Virginia and applying for jobs at businesses dealing with animals. She posed as an ordinary job seeker and went through the normal employment screenings but kept her motive secret.

Recently, she wrapped up what she called her third and final assignment for PETA and decided to reveal her true identity. Although she has revealed her name, she is keeping her residence a secret, citing "security reasons."

Leitten was hired as a study monitor at Sinclair Research Center in May 2002 and for nine months wore a hidden camera and documented instances in which she said animals were treated with cruelty. Her findings, later made public by PETA, nearly drove the biomedical research facility, which claims to be Mid-Missouri’s largest animal producer, out of business.

"My experience at Sinclair was tough," Leitten said. "There were several wrong things happening there. Animals were denied medical attention, and others, who were severely sick, even went untreated for several days."

Sinclair owner Guy Bouchard calls Leitten’s allegations circumstantial and baseless. "Lisa is an extremist who is against using animals to conduct research," he said. "Her claims were exaggerated from what reality is."

Born in Buffalo, N.Y., Leitten earned a graduate degree at Central Washington University’s Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute. In college, she became increasingly concerned about animal welfare.

"My goal has always been to raise awareness, voice concerns and take action in helping our voiceless animals," she said. "Sinclair was only interested in conducting research and not the animals’ well-being."

The lab, she said, was not only overcrowded with animals but also inadequately staffed to meet the animals’ needs.

"Floors of the cages where the dogs were kept were flattened, and the dogs could actually flip through the bars," she said. "Some dogs were abused by the technicians and others, kept in the cages for as long as six years. It was cruel."

Bouchard said there were a few accidents at Sinclair and certainly areas that required improvements. But Leitten’s account was blown out of proportion, he said, and the lab has suffered immeasurable damages as a result.

"No animals’ lives were put at risk because of inhumane treatment," he said. "All we do is to try and improve the quality of these animals’ lives. We’re not negligent, and everybody working at Sinclair loves animals."

Two big pet-food clients, including Iams Co., severed ties with Sinclair, and Bouchard was forced to lay off more than 40 of his 80 employees. The business, he said, is slowly recovering at an undisclosed location. Bouchard said he has received threatening telephone calls from animal activists since Leitten’s investigations were made public.

For Leitten, the time has come to spend more quality time with her family and friends. "I will not be going undercover anymore," she said. "It’s a hard job. It drains you out emotionally. All I want now is a stable life."

Reach Pamela Mulumby at (573) 815-1711 or pmulumby@tribmail.com.