Call for Better Laws to Protect Farm Animals in Ohio

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. May 28, 2010 — As the nation struggles to comprehend what some animal experts are calling the most egregious case of animal cruelty ever documented, local authorities in Union County, Ohio are working to track down the animals shown in the undercover video being beaten, stabbed, punched and kicked inside Conklin Dairy Farm and bring them to safety at the New York Shelter of Farm Sanctuary. Yesterday, the nation’s leading farm animal protection organization contacted the Union County Humane Society and local authorities, who are investigating this case, to offer rehabilitative care and lifelong refuge for any of the abused cows and calves in need as a result of the ongoing investigation. The Union County Humane Society has accepted Farm Sanctuary’s offer to help, should they confiscate any animals exhibiting signs of abuse, and both organizations are calling for better laws to protect farm animals in Ohio.

“We are so thankful that the Union County Humane Society has welcomed our offer to help,” said Susie Coston, national shelter director of Farm Sanctuary. “Ohio is known as ‘the heart of it all,’ and judging from the countless phone calls we are receiving from grief stricken citizens all across the country pleading for the safe rescue and refuge of these innocent animals, I can say with certainty that hearts are broken.”

According to Steffen Baldwin, the executive director of the Union County Humane Society, current state laws limit what can be done. Baldwin confirmed that the Union County Humane Society obtained a search warrant on Wednesday and humane agents entered the premises accompanied by the Union County Sheriffs Department, Union County Health Department, and a veterinarian from OSU that specializes in large animal care. At that time they found that all living animals at the facility had no visible signs of abuse. Without any visible signs of abuse and with the main perpetrator arrested, the Union County Humane Society lacked the physical evidence to seize the animals on the spot. However, this farm sells animals every week, and according to Baldwin, two agents from the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Enforcement Division have been added to assist in the investigation. Baldwin confirmed that state inspectors arrived at the farm on Thursday and cited it for not properly disposing of dead animals. A department spokeswoman stated that Conklin didn’t bury dead cows deep enough on the property. Additionally, the Union County Humane Society plans to track down animals recently sold from the facility to see if they show signs of abuse.

“We are grateful to Farm Sanctuary for reaching out and offering to provide protection for the cows and calves who suffered this egregious abuse,” said Baldwin. “Unfortunately, despite the horrific acts of torture documented in the video, and due to Ohio’s anemic animal cruelty laws, we simply do not have enough evidence at this time to meet the public’s overwhelming demand for the animals to be immediately seized and the facility shut down. This is an ongoing investigation and we are doing everything in our power to gather the necessary evidence to bring the victims of this atrocious abuse to refuge, where they can live out the rest of their days free from fear and pain.”

Local law enforcement agents are working to prosecute Billy Joe Gregg, the Conklin Dairy Farm worker accused of abusing calves and cows and most prominently shown in the video. Gregg has been arrested on 12 counts of animal cruelty, each second degree misdemeanor count carrying a possible sentence of 90 days in jail, and he is being held on $100,000 bond. Other arrests are pending further investigation.

Ohio law does not currently allow felony charges on farm animal abuse. On Thursday, the Ohio House of Representatives voted to approve House Bill 55, which would increase animal cruelty laws from a second degree misdemeanor to a first degree misdemeanor and mandated psychological exam, mental health treatment, and suspension of the ability to care for any animals, as well as more. Baldwin stated, “This law is a good start, but Ohio is still one of only 10 states that does not allow animal cruelty to be punished at the felony level. Until Ohio joins the other 40 states in the Union to properly protect those creatures who cannot speak for themselves or protect themselves we will continue to voice our displeasure at the lax laws in a state that prides itself on agriculture and livestock.”

In a statement issued Wednesday, Gene Baur, president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, called the Conklin Dairy Farm cruelty case “an eye-opener to anyone still unsure of what all the fuss is about concerning the treatment of farm animals in Ohio,” a reference to the campaign currently underway in the state to place a measure on the ballot to enact modest reforms and protect farm animals.

If you would like to speak with Gene Baur, president and co-founder or Susie Coston, national shelter director of Farm Sanctuary, a leading supporter of Ohioans For Humane Farms, please contact Meredith Turner at 646-369-6212 or mturner@farmsanctuary.org.

Photos of Farm Sanctuary’s shelters available upon request.

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