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June/July 2007
Undercover for the Animals
The Satya Interview with “Pete” the Undercover Investigator


“Pete.” Photo courtesy of Last Chance for Animals

Every morning for six months, one year, two weeks—however long it takes—before heading to his current job, he puts on his work clothes and arranges his surveillance equipment. He takes a glance at his fact sheet, the one containing the history of who he’s supposed to be, his name, his past “work” experience and heads out of his run-down, nondescript, no-questions-asked motel room. Riding in his vehicle with state appropriate plates, “Pete” goes to work.

Every single day while on the job, Pete lives a lie. He dons a different character, works his way into different animal abuse institutions, lies about himself, past experience, past employers and proves that he can do it. Gaining the trust of some of the worst criminals in animal abuse, Pete aids in the horrific abuse, torture and killing. He’s been up to his arms in feces, blood, innards and body parts. He’s been inside unimaginable facilities—slaughterhouses, kennels, puppy mills, labs and factory farms. Having seen the most violent, offensive and unnecessary acts committed against animals, Pete feels his duty in life is to serve them justice.

Originally wanting to be an FBI agent in the serial killer/child abductions unit, Pete learned evil stuff also happens to animals on a mass scale every day. Pete has since dedicated his life to undercover investigations for animals. A vegan, straight edge activist, Pete works in animal abusing facilities wired with extensive video and sound recording devices capturing video and submitting them to nonprofit animal rights groups who publicize the findings and work to change these industries.

In 2006, HBO aired the documentary Dealing Dogs, produced by Tom Simon and Sarah Teale, profiling Pete and what it takes to be an undercover investigator while busting the nation’s most notorious dog dealer, C.C. Baird. Dealing Dogs gives a taste of the horrors Pete endures to save animals day in and out.

Having to postpone several times due to unexpected job moves, Pete took time to chat with Maureen C. Wyse about what it’s like working in some of the worst places on earth and the frustrations of being one of the few people out there doing it.

How do you prepare yourself for investigations physically and mentally?
A lot of the jobs have been really intense physical labor. One job was only for five weeks, but it really defined what physical exhaustion was to me. So I work out all the time. I have to take extra care of my back because there are a lot of injuries in these jobs.

I also try to research the job and see what it’s like, to see if there have been any investigations in that industry. No matter how much shit I see or do, it never ceases to amaze me the shit people do to animals. I just can’t believe what I’m looking at when I walk down onto the floor. So I try and get into the mindset of the character I’m supposed to be: I’m a total loser, I really need the work and I don’t give a shit about animals. I just try to step into it, saying if not me, then honestly nobody else, and I am the biggest, baddest motherfucker to set foot on this earth. So I will walk into here and take control of this whole situation. [Laughter.] It doesn’t always work out perfectly.

You’ve been through it all, pretending to be other people, committing acts of cruelty, going outside of your moral beliefs, eating meat, drinking alcohol… what keeps you going?
That’s a tough question. Doing undercover work has come to completely define me. Even though I want it to be just a job, it is a lifestyle. I’m at the point now, where I think I’ve sacrificed enough of my personal life that the most important thing I can do—and want to do—is work on another case.

I went to sessions with a couple different psychologists and they said, well, you have depression, insomnia and your work is fucking you up. But nothing really worked until I went undercover into another job. Then I slept like a baby. I don’t really allow time off for myself because if I stop and think about everything going on, all of the shit I’ve seen and all the shit I haven’t seen... I think what keeps me going is no matter what kind of shit I’m in, the animals are going through way worse.

Do you ever see suffering animals and think, how am I the only animal activist who has seen the inside of this place?
That’s an excellent point. I’m in a place right now where it’s just the most fucking disgusting job I have ever done in my entire life. I just can’t believe no one knew about it. It’s literally, if people would bother to turn down a street and drive through a gate, right there. There’s nothing hiding it. You think somebody would at some point, go a step further and uncover a little more dirt, but it hasn’t happened.

So many activists, but so little action?
A lot of cases don’t go anywhere. I have been to over 400 puppy mills and I’ve only gotten two targets shut down—one indirectly (my info went to cops who took it to the Humane Society, who then got it shut down after the target didn’t clean up after months). So I can understand how someone can do one or two things in undercover work and then get burned out, like what’s the point of this? But what if every activist wanted to do one undercover job or one week out in the field? Holy shit! We would know everything, we would have it all.

Dog with a bloody nose. Photo courtesy of Last Chance for Animals

What would you say to those who have become burned out after doing investigations and turning up no results?
Unless the target is doing absolutely nothing wrong, you’re either busting a target or exposing the industry. If you are just exposing the industry, you have to keep in mind how important all the pictures that go up on the internet are and the articles and literature written from information from the investigations. I make most of my decisions about what I believe based on what I feel, not what I think. Most people are not going to change instantly and become vegetarian just because you talked to them. If I talked to someone and was like, you don’t get it, this is what I’ve seen, this is what I’ve done, this is what it’s like when someone slams a piglet’s head against the ground to try and shatter its skull, they may not listen. But when you have video footage of it, it’s totally different because they can hear and see it. Even if you’re not busting all the targets, even if you walk out of that place and the same shit’s going to go on the next day, you have something you can take away.

Can you describe a typical work environment?
Working alongside minorities, people of lower economic status, often alcoholics. Being treated as though you’re a machine, a lot of these people run like machines until their bodies just break down. Generally getting covered from head to toe in shit and blood. I think for some of these people, being surrounded by so much screaming, so many terrible things going on at once, it’s sensory overload. But maybe they just don’t care. I know at the hog farm I worked at, it was just throwing a lot of piglets, getting them away from their mothers, throwing them into bins, beating them, prodding them down alleys, and joking about each other’s mothers while we’re doing it, as if what’s happening isn’t actually happening. It’s a very desensitized work environment.

On a personal level, can you describe what it is like to lead multiple lives, over and over again, and how you keep all your facts straight?
It’s very difficult. [Laughter.] Going from one place to another, changing where I’m from, who I am, and all of that. Experience—doing this for over five years—has made it a lot easier for me to keep my facts straight. But in leading two different lives I developed this really bad habit of talking to myself. Maybe that’s why people don’t like undercover work—after you do it for long enough, you’re not really sure who you’re supposed to be when you’re just hanging out with your friends. Recently, I’ve been trying too hard to be who I was before. There’s a lot of ways I used to act and things I used to do, I just don’t feel like acting like that or doing that anymore.

What do you think you have to compromise the most?
I compromise my sense of self. I had a cop once tell me, if you’re going to be an activist and a cop, it’s going to be tough, because if you want to protect the activists while they’re doing a protest, you also need to protect the Nazis while they’re doing a protest. You have to compromise your morals. I thought, well I don’t want to compromise my morals, I am going to be an activist. And guess what? That’s all I do now, is compromise my morals. But I’m an investigator and I am willing to do anything. And I’m really nice to animals when I’m not working, so I guess I’m a good guy.

What’s your most horrifying experience on the job?
Part of what makes that a hard distinction is when I’m really in the zone, nothing is going to phase me. But there have been times when I was just like, oh shit, I can’t believe this is happening because I just didn’t expect it at all.

I worked with an anti-corruption group, who wanted to bust a dog slaughterhouse because it’s illegal to eat dogs in the Philippines. Just seeing so many dogs in absolute, utter misery and their heads stacked up on a pile because people eat the brains and the eyes and shit. Seeing dogs beaten over the head with a pole, hoping they’re dead or unconscious and then blowtorched to remove all the hair. What made it so horrifying also was walking into it with no self-assurance, with a group I didn’t trust, surrounded by cops I couldn’t trust. We actually got a dog slaughterhouse raided and then he was back in business the next day. And the group I worked with was corrupt themselves. I gave them bribe money another group had fronted me to bribe cops to raid the dog slaughterhouse, and the animal group I was working for pockets some of it.

When we raided the slaughterhouse there were dog heads everywhere, intestines everywhere, blood all over the place. One of the cops puked because he couldn’t handle it. The cops got the slaughterhouse workers to start “rescuing” the dogs by tying their mouths shut with plastic, like strips of a plastic bag, they put a metal noose around their neck and then these skin and bone dogs are just thrown into the truck. Most of them got euthanized.

The target went to jail for only one night. And as I was supposed to leave the Philippines, I had my van parked on a crowded, well-lit street outside a restaurant where I was eating and all of my shit—except the majority of my footage—is stolen. Coincidentally, one of the cops calls me, “just to see how I’m doing.” I tell him I’m really not doing well, all my shit’s stolen. He instantly says, “Well, did they get your camera?” [Clearly they were in on it] and so I’m like, fuck, I have to flee the country. Then he’s calling me, to make an official report and they want to interrogate me. I had to take a bus, go into hiding for a couple days and get a flight.

What’s been the most gratifying?
Busting C.C. Baird—that’s it. The shit that happened at that kennel was just way too much for me to handle. I told myself, if I fuck up the rest of my life, as long as I get this right, everything will be okay.

How do you witness killing and cruelty knowing you could have saved lives?
As an investigator, I don’t change or plant evidence and I don’t take anything away, I just observe what goes on and try to be as much of a ghost as possible. Do it exactly as they say and as someone else would do it. Whether it is right or wrong, good or bad, better or worse, it doesn’t matter, it’s professional to never change or alter anything outside of what would normally occur. I really set that in my heart before I go into the job. If anything, no matter how horrible, I’m going to document it as is because it is wrong.

There have been instances where I have thought, what if I just did this, no one would know. There have been a lot of situations where I’m like, you know what? This animal can’t get any food, if I can just give him a handful of food, would that help, am I prolonging their suffering, are they just going to get sent to a lab then, or waste away more? But the number one rule to always go by, is do what you’re going to do as if you were just a worker, and document.

Can you give any advice or tips for activists wanting to get into this work?
Know self-defense. I’ve never had to beat anybody up while working, but I have been in some very tight situations. The most important thing is always assume the worst. Always assume you are working with people that are smarter, faster and stronger. I am literally saying take martial arts for a year or two before you do it. Also, go work at an animal shelter or something like it, doing the nastiest, filthiest work there is. Go deal with life and death. Go be the person who has to make the decision to put this animal down or not. Clean up all the shit, get covered in shit. Get used to it. Be able to do that and then go eat lunch and not think about it.

Make sure you’re a good actor and can switch from one mindset to another. If you’re too emotional or sensitive, you won’t be able to handle it. Make sure you’re dedicated. Make sure whoever you’re doing the job for is a good group, that when all is said and done, the right thing will be done with the information. Also, make sure you’re in excellent physical condition. A lot of this work is really grueling and a lot of the undercover employment jobs, unfortunately, are exclusively for men.

If you decide, I can’t punch a dog in the face, don’t work undercover at some hideous kennel. If you cannot eat meat, you cannot do undercover employment or field work. You have to know your limitations. You have to be willing to throw anything and everything away to keep your cover.

Anything else?
The most important activism is campaigning, inspiring people. If it wasn’t for that, everything I do would be completely and totally meaningless. If no one knows about it, then nothing changes. To activists I would like to say that whatever it is you have in your hearts, set a similar goal to Satya. Satya managed to make an entire publication to cover virtually every philanthropic issue that exists, and inspired and informed people for 13 years. Shoot for the biggest and the highest level. Don’t just be a weekend warrior about activism. Set the highest possible goal you can and see how close you can come to it. It’s important because most people won’t. It is true that if it is not you, it is nobody else. Everyone is afraid to do it, everyone is saying, I can’t handle this right now, I have too much going on in life, this isn’t for me. So we all have to try.

You’re a living example.
Well wow, thank you.

Learn more about the documentary Dealing Dogs at