Update: February 2022
PETA has confirmed that Dan Moulton, owner of Moulton Chinchilla Ranch (MCR), no longer has any chinchillas. They have finally been freed from the filthy wire cages and are receiving veterinary care, and they will soon have a chance to find the homes that they have always deserved.
Update: October 8, 2021
A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) judge ruled that Moulton violated federal law by failing to meet the minimum care standards of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA)—for which he had been cited over 100 times since 2013. The violations included leaving sick and injured chinchillas without veterinary care for open and infected wounds, pus-filled eyes, and severely overgrown teeth; housing the animals in filthy conditions; and repeatedly failing to make the facility available to inspectors. Describing Moulton’s history of violations as “astounding,” the judge fined him $18,000 and stripped him of his AWA license—which she declared him “unfit” to hold.
During the hearing, USDA lawyers argued that Moulton willfully violated the AWA for years—in 2018, the agency filed a formal complaint against Moulton, which detailed 213 examples of violations of AWA requirements. During a May 2021 inspection of the 748 chinchillas at MCR, inspectors found animals suffering from untreated, painful ailments; exposed to rusted, broken metal feeders; and caged above a build-up of waste so excessive that the ammonia odor irritated the inspectors’ eyes and throats. In February, Moulton’s veterinarian reportedly found a chinchilla whose eyeballs had ruptured as a result of untreated conjunctivitis.
A PETA undercover investigation into MCR—a massive breeding mill near Chatfield, Minnesota, that kept approximately 1,000 chinchillas confined to wire-floored cages in a shed reeking of ammonia—found that these sensitive exotic animals were denied not only everything natural and important to them but also the basic necessities of life, including effective veterinary care for chronic infections and severe, life-threatening injuries that caused them to suffer and even die.
Based on PETA’s evidence, law-enforcement officials executed a search warrant at MCR in January 2021 and seized 10 chinchillas afflicted with neurologic disease, chronic dental disease, and eye infections so advanced that the animals’ eyes had to be removed. One of the veterinarians who assisted law enforcement wrote that the seized chinchillas suffered from ailments “severe enough to warrant their removal from the property due to probable cause of animal cruelty,” and that Moulton’s “lack of swift action to ameliorate [their] suffering” was to blame.
A veterinarian who later examined the seized chinchillas found that several had such severely overgrown teeth that they’d developed “open sores … from the chronic saliva” running down their necks, and that another chinchilla whose eyes were both sealed shut with green discharge was “grossly emaciated,” a condition “consistent with an animal who is painful [and] chronically ill” (emphasis added). The veterinarian wrote that these chinchillas’ conditions “were present and obvious for at least weeks and likely months … [T]heir grave conditions [suggest] a lack of appropriate care including humane euthanasia in a timely manner.”
A state humane law-enforcement official concurred with the veterinarians that cruelty-to-animals charges were warranted against Moulton, who he wrote was “negligent in addressing [the chinchillas’] immediate pain and suffering.” Despite all this evidence, prosecutors declined to charge Moulton, falsely claiming that the USDA would impose stiffer penalties—but the USDA did nothing to help the hundreds of chinchillas left behind in his filthy shed.
Charlene was denied veterinary care for this excruciatingly painful foot injury, which left a bloody stump with bones exposed. PETA’s investigator rescued her. She was rushed for emergency veterinary care, underwent surgery, and continues to heal.
Nowhere to Run or Hide
Chinchillas are active, inquisitive animals who love to run, jump, and climb—activities that are extremely important to their physical and psychological health—but at MCR, they were kept constantly confined to small, barren, rusty wire-floored cages. They had nowhere to burrow or hide, which to these nocturnal prey animals was extremely stressful and terrifying.
The cages were jampacked in a filthy shed, where the walls and ceiling were covered with insect waste. There were piles of feces just outside the shed, and some even flowed back inside through a door. Many of these social animals—who naturally live in herds of up to 100, high up in the Andes Mountains—were kept all alone in solitary cages. Others were crammed together in cages so tightly that they could barely move. Some only had a block of wood to sit or gnaw on. There were no toys, bedding, or environmental enrichment.
Deprived of everything meaningful to them, the chinchillas in these highly stressful, inhumane conditions mutilated themselves and their cagemates, which is a sign of severe distress. One young animal’s ears were nearly chewed off.
Others, including one named Casper by PETA’s investigator, suffered from severe fur loss. Metal collars prevented the female chinchillas from escaping from the males, who were allowed to impregnate them over and over so that their babies could be sold to laboratories and into the pet trade. One baby chinchilla was found dead.
The unnatural, severely stressful living conditions led chinchillas to chew on their own and other chinchillas’ fur.
Gaping Wounds, Protruding Bones
MCR’s owner consistently denied animals veterinary care and pain relief for devastating and even fatal wounds.
One chinchilla, named Charlene, was found with a mutilated foot. The breeder denied her veterinary care for this excruciating injury, which left a bloody stump with the bones exposed. However, PETA’s investigator rescued her and immediately took her in for emergency veterinary care. Her leg had to be amputated.
The abscessed mammary tissue of another chinchilla, named Tina, had swollen to the size of a cherry tomato and—after days without treatment—eventually burst. Instead of getting her veterinary care, the breeder just sprayed her open wound with iodine—which did nothing for her excruciating pain. A chinchilla named Clara was given no pain relief for several open gashes across her abdomen that exposed the tissue beneath her skin.
Yet another chinchilla had a raw, bloody wound at the base of his tail. MCR’s owner left him without veterinary care for weeks, until he finally died.
After his dog attacked a chinchilla, the breeder left the traumatized animal alone in a cage overnight without care. The next morning, she was dead. The breeder casually said that he would freeze her remains and skin her—apparently, to sell her fur. Another chinchilla was found dead with blood coming out of his mouth and nostrils. The breeder said that he had died of “pneumonia.”
Eyes Protruding, Filled With Pus, and Sealed Shut
Many chinchillas at MCR suffered from chronic eye diseases or injuries.
The breeder said that one ailing chinchilla—whose bulging eye had apparently lost vision—had “a little bit of an infection,” but he left him to languish without care. Other chinchillas’ eyes were sealed shut with a putrid discharge, sunken into their sockets, or severely swollen and filled with pus.
Chelsea was denied veterinary care for her severely injured eye, which protruded from its socket. The breeder shrugged her condition off, claiming that there was “nothing wrong” with the obviously misshapen, discolored eye.
In October 2020, the USDA cited MCR for failing to provide two chinchillas who had an eye discharge with adequate veterinary care, but this warning wasn’t enough to inspire the breeder to get the animals help. Almost six weeks later, their eyes were sealed shut with crusty discharge.
Chelsea was also deprived of veterinary care for her severely injured and/or diseased left eye, which swelled and protruded from its socket.
Chloe’s teeth were severely overgrown, even curling up into her cheek, which can cause abscesses and make eating difficult and painful. Her fur became matted as she struggled to groom herself. The owner denied her any care for this condition, which he speculated was caused by a fractured jaw.
The owner guessed that Chloe “probably fell and fractured her jaw” but did not provide her with veterinary care for this dangerous and potentially painful condition.
Neck-Breaking and Making a Profit
Another chinchilla had a bulging mass the size of a ping pong ball under the chin. The owner said that he killed this and other chinchillas by breaking their necks, and he mocked a USDA veterinarian—who had evidently and rightfully raised concerns about this crude method of killing—for having a “hissy fit.”
Despite being aware of multiple sick and injured animals in need of urgent medical attention, the breeder instead took 40 recently purchased chinchillas to a veterinarian in order to get the paperwork required to ship them across the country for profit.
This chinchilla had a ping pong ball–sized mass under the chin. The owner said that he killed this and other chinchillas by trying to break their necks.
No Water for Days on End
Veterinary care wasn’t the only vital thing MCR’s owner failed to provide—he withheld water from dozens of chinchillas for at least five days. The desperately thirsty animals drank continuously for more than three minutes when PETA’s investigator gave them access to a water source.
The breeder said that he spent a mere 45 minutes a day tending to 1,000 chinchillas—less than three seconds per animal. Many of these fastidious animals had oily, matted fur, which he admitted was because they lacked the opportunity to take dust baths.
This chinchilla was missing most of the fur on his or her tail.
From Shocking Neglect to Electroshocking
MCR has sold chinchillas for over 50 years, including to laboratories and the pet trade. The animals who make it out of this disgusting warehouse alive are bound for ghastly experiments and pet stores across the country and beyond.
Chinchillas from MCR have been used by experimenters at the National Institutes of Health; in the Navy; at Harvard Medical School; at the universities of Arizona, Colorado, Maryland, and Miami; and at many other schools in the U.S., Canada, Germany, and China. Chinchillas’ large, expressive ears make them popular targets for invasive hearing and ear infection experiments. Experimenters using chinchillas from MCR have punctured their eardrums with knives, injected bacteria into their ears, blasted them with loud noise for hours on end, drilled holes into their skulls, and electroshocked them if they pressed a lever at the “wrong” time in search of food.
Chinchillas sold in the pet trade suffer, too. Impulse buyers are unprepared for the complex needs of these exotic animals, who require ample space to exercise, specialized veterinary care, frequent dust baths, low temperatures, and humidity, among other things. Consequently, chinchillas purchased as “pets” often suffer from inadequate living conditions and can end up neglected or even abandoned.
This chinchilla, who had pneumonia according to the breeder, struggled to breathe and tried in vain to clear the thick discharge from his eyes and nostrils.
You Can Help Chinchillas!
While Moulton does not currently have any chinchillas, criminal charges and prosecution remain vital not only to holding him accountable for the extreme, widespread suffering of the animals he bred and sold but also to ensuring that he can’t go back to business as usual and neglecting or abusing any other animals.
Please urge Fillmore County Attorney Brett Corson and Rice County Attorney John Fossum to file criminal cruelty charges against Moulton at last and to seek to ban him for life from ever possessing animals again.
And if you’re planning to add an animal to your family, please always adopt from an animal shelter or adoption organization—never buy from a pet store or breeder.
Click here to share your gratitude with the investigator who revealed this cruelty. If you think you have what it takes to carry out undercover investigations like this one, we want to hear from you.