by Pat Malin
An hour-long panel discussion on animal issues was held at the New York Farm Bureau’s Animal Welfare Conference at the Doubletree by Hilton in Syracuse.
Animal abuse, whether it’s perceived or actually exists, took up much of the discussion of the animal issues panel. Jerry Bilinski, DVM, was the moderator and drew up initial questions for the other panelists: Robert Brooks, board member, Harness Horse Breeders of New York State; Mel Chesbro, New York State Fair Coordinator/Ag Manager, NYS Department of Ag and Markets; Carlin Jones, VMD, equine clinic at OakenCroft; Ulf Kintzel, a farmer at White Clover Sheep Farm, and David Smith, DVM, director, Division of Animal Industry, NYS Department of Ag and Markets.
Kintzel, a native of the former East Germany who now runs a sheep farm near Canandaigua in western New York, expressed strong views on the need for openness and transparency on farms.
“Animal abuse stains all farmers,” he told attendees. “I want it stopped. I’m not willing to defend abuse just because it’s a farmer.”
Nevertheless, he doesn’t believe the public recognizes standard farming practices that are ethical. The public should not expect farm animals to be treated like pets. He is raising animals on pasture.
“I don’t pamper my animals,” he said. “I raise them outside, but they have shelter. I give them what they need. I can’t make them suffer, and I’ll put them down if I have to,” he said.
Tamara Healy, who has a carriage horse business in Johnstown, NY, told the panelists she was more concerned about false accusations. She said she heard about three horses that were “confiscated” from a horse farm in a nearby town last winter because of complaints that the animals were standing out in the cold.
“Law enforcement accused (the owner) of not having heated barns,” she said. She’s worried it could happen to her. She believes farmers should stick together, especially if complaints about alleged abuse come from videos taken by passersby or mentioned on social media.
“It seems as if you’re proven guilty before you’re presumed innocent,” she commented. “How do we support ‘us?’ We have to stand together because we’re only one percent of the population. Anyone can call in anonymously because we’re perceived of doing something inappropriate. You don’t know who’s accusing you.”
Dr. Smith, who supervises a staff of 15 veterinarians for NYS Ag and Markets, said in a later interview that his office does not directly investigate complaints of animal abuse on farms. “Our job is to protect animal health through legislation and prevention programs. Animal cruelty is really the responsibility of law enforcement.”
Is there a trend for the public to report more cases of animal cruelty? Smith said it’s interesting that reports seem to coincide with “a downturn in the economy. Most cases concern an animal not being property fed. In most cases, farmers are doing a good job, but it’s often law enforcement who doesn’t understand what they’re seeing. That’s when they call us in and we can discuss agricultural practices. Actually, I think social media is a good thing. Facebook is doing the public a service by increasing their understanding of these issues.”