The videotaped hanging of a sow from a skid loader with a logging chain has divided farming communities in Northeast Ohio, hog farmers and veterinarians.
Ken Wiles, owner of the 6,000-animal Wiles hog farm near Creston where the incident occurred last year says he’s been "euthanizing" hogs this way for 40 years.
In a June trial in Wayne County in which he and Dusty Stroud, a hog farm employee, were found not guilty on all cruelty charges brought–son, Joe Wiles, was found guilty of improperly handling piglets and fined $250–Wiles told veterinarian Donald Sander it’s the way Utah executes criminals.
But viewers of the video–portions of which were shown on at least one Cleveland-area television station multiple times–saw a convulsing animal suffering for a full five minutes in the kind of agony euthanasia is supposed to stop not cause.
The Wiles hog farm was raided in November on the basis of undercover footage shot over more than a year by John Knoldt, (a.k.a. Chris Parrett) an investigator for the Humane Farming Association who gained employment at Wiles hog farm after being tipped off to abuses by Ingrid DiMarino, a farm employee.
Also documented by the nonprofit CA-based advocacy group were hogs falling through broken floor slats into manure pits, being buried alive and killed with hammers and piglets slaughtered by having their heads bashed against the wall.
Ohio State University veterinarian Donald Sanders who attended the raid and testified for the prosecution called hanging sows "abhorrent" as did the Ohio Pork Producers Council.
But swine veterinarian Paul Armbrecht testifying for the defense said hanging was a "practical method to euthanize an animal."
Of course the public is growing used to exposes of factory farming taped by undercover employees by now–replete with dead piles, sadistic mutilation and neglect. Employees at poultry processor House of Raeford in North Carolina which supplies Arby’s and Denny’s were recently filmed shoving their fists into birds’ cavities to remove eggs which they threw at each other. And laying hens were filmed impaled on battery cage wires at Esbenshade Farms in Mt. Joy, PA–events which Judge Jayne F. Duncan ruled not cruelty in June.
Factory farm operators typically dispute the findings–why weren’t the violations present when inspectors were there?–try to find bad apples and vow to sin no more, all the while watching their stock price.
But others, like House of Raeford, Esbenshade Farms and Tyson Foods swiftboat the humane investigators demanding to know why they didn’t stop the cruelty if it was so bad and implying that they staged or even caused the documented incidents.
Ken Wiles actually blamed the animals’ deprivation of food and water and the floors and crates caked with urine and fecal material that he is charged with on the 10 hours his farm was locked down during the raid.
(He also says investigator John Knoldt was trying to "kill him and his family." )
But how do you defend a hanging?
Well, the alternative, shooting could be dangerous Earl Miller, a dairy farmer from Dalton, told the Wooster Daily Record at Wiles’ acquittal–because of the "cement inside the barns" and the risk of bullets ricocheting.
And even if bullets are more humane, "No one likes to hear guns firing 20 times each day," posts Mary on the Daily Record’s web site.
Besides, the employees on the Wiles hog farm COULDN’T shoot the animals confesses Ken Wiles–suddenly law abiding–because they are convicted felons and not allowed to use weapons!
But even these answers don’t explain why workers actually taunted the animals while they were struggling and thought the whole sequence funny.
"One of them goes around and grabs the hog as it’s hanging there and hugs it" to mock an upset employee who was watching says Bob Baker, who filmed the event. "These poor animals are hanging there suffocating."
Euthanasia means mercy killing but animals need mercy from these "farmers."
MARTHA ROSENBERG is staff cartoonist on the Evanston Roundtable. She can be reached at email@example.com