Activists + > Actors

Linda Blair Speak Out Against Pet Theft
October 1, 2002

She rocketed to fame in hit 70's films like "Sweet Hostage," the star-studded "Airport '75," and of course, "The Exorcist." But as Linda Blair grew up right before our eyes, she began to add activist to her list of credits.

With landmark television movies like "Born Innocent" and "Sarah T. Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic," she shed light on America’s dark secrets about teenage abuse and alcoholism. Now, a very grown up Linda is on a mission to blow the whistle on what she refers to as one of the last of America’s deep dark secrets - pet theft.

Blair says, "Around this country, people will go, they're called bunchers, and they stake out neighborhoods. They may take one dog, they may take the whole neighborhood, and these dogs may end up in puppy mills. But most likely they will end up in animal research."

In the past, stolen pets have wound up in places like the so-called "Puppy Pavilion," a Bakersfield, California kennel once operated by a trio later arrested and convicted of felony grand theft and conspiracy. Barbara Ruggiero and her cohorts stole over 140 cats and dogs and then sold the animals to medical research facilities. That was over ten years ago.

But in 1996, NBC's "Dateline" shed light on another ring of pet thieves. And though the cases remain unsolved, pet thefts have been reported in Oregon, California, and Connecticut as recently as last month. It's an issue that affects every pet owner, but especially those, like Linda, who have lost their four-legged friends.

Linda says, "I had a Jack Russell terrier named Sheba, who was born in my bed. In the early 1980's, I had an appointment with my manager. It was a really hot day. I said to her, ‘You can't go with me.’ I took her with me everywhere. And when I came home, she was gone."

"Come Back, Little Sheba" read the headline on a 1983 article in People magazine. But despite national attention, Sheba was never found. Blair says, "You reach out to everybody to try to find answers, and for me none came."

Linda never learned what really happened to Sheba, but she knows all too well the pain that comes with the loss of a pet. So when she met fellow actor and activist Chris Derose, Linda immediately joined the former "General Hospital" star and founder of Last Chance for Animals on his crusade for justice against pet theft. Derose says, "I call it organized crime sanctioned by the USDA."

A pretty bold statement, considering the fact that the USDA, which licenses "class b" dealers to sell animals to research facilities, does not endorse pet theft. In fact, the USDA is bound by the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 designed to prevent pet theft. But Chris and company believe the law is inadequate and ineffective. "CJ" contacted a USDA spokesperson who responded to Chris’s allegations by saying, "We update our regulations, but the basic law is changeable by congress."

That is precisely what Chris wants to see happen. He says, "We have a bill in congress right now called The Pet Safety Protection Act. We will get that put through soon."

The proposed act "prohibits class b dealers from selling dogs and cats into research" and Chris and Linda both believe it can help solve a problem they've been battling for years. Blair says, "Whether you're a celebrity or not, take action, get involved, and you can make a difference in the world."

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