In a meeting Monday April 4th, Sugarcreek auction owner Leroy Baker agreed to make several major changes in his handling that will drastically improve the humane treatment for animals. Local law enforcement has agreed to fully uphold enforcement of humane regulations.
Animals' Angels met with Baker and several local authorities at the Surgarcreek Police Station. The almost three-hour meeting was a direct result of public pressure from the thousands of people who flooded area agencies and businesses with calls, faxes and emails, after 4 years of investigations by Animals' Angels' revealed no improvements at the auction. Promising to shun contact and commercial interaction with the area, callers insisted that Sugarcreek auction's cruelty stop. The meeting marks the first time Baker has sat down with any humane organization or agreed to do anything.
In an atmosphere that remained hostile throughout, the meeting was organized to address Animals' Angels investigations and complaints regarding the handling of horses at the auction, overcrowded pens and the lack of veterinary care. Present at the meeting were Mayor Jeremiah Johnson, City attorney and member of the Economic Development Council Doug Frautschy, Chief of Police Kevin Kaser, Assistant Tuscarawas County Prosecutor Amanda Miller, T.C. Humane Society President Wallick and Humane Officer Steve Busch, Ohio Highway Patrol DOT Specialist SGT Wolfe, Auction Veterinarian Rick Daugherty, Auction Owner Leroy Baker, and Animals Angels Executive Director Sonja Meadows and AA Head of Operations.
In the meeting it was agreed that:
· Baker will have employees stop hitting horses in the face and poking them in the eyes
· Baker will replace a specific employee who works directly behind the auction ring
· Baker will have employees immediately segregate aggressive horses
· Baker will quit having horses moved en masse to the sale ring, limiting the number of horses moved at once to 4
· County Humane Officer Busch will attend the auction on a regular basis to ensure compliance with animal protection laws and have the full support and cooperation of the Sugarcreek police
· Sugarcreek police and Officer Busch will respond immediately to cruelty complaints
Mr. Baker complained angrily several times during the meeting, claiming that animal welfare organizations had "almost bankrupted" him. Attempting to justify the way horses are handled at his auction and during transport, he claimed that it was terribly wrong that the transport of blind horses was outlawed since some blind horses would "travel better than horses that are able to see", and that horses only got trampled because they were sick and weak to begin with, not because of the handling.
Canadian truck loaded with horses leaving Sugarcreek on 4/2/11
Baker admitted that he stopped shipping to Morton, TX for export to Mexico two years ago "after all the trouble" he had. Animals' Angels investigations regarding transportation issues and Coggins documents resulted in a USDA investigation, the case is still ongoing. Shipping to Canada shortens the transport time for Sugarcreek horses from over 60 hours in transit to approx.14 hours. Information obtained from a recent FOIA request confirms Baker's statement, as well as recent investigations by Animals' Angels.
While the response of those at the meeting was helpful overall, Mayor Johnson seemed to find the topic of discussion and Baker's outbreaks amusing and was observed several times giggling with the auction veterinarian. Apparently either misinformed or lacking information borne out by years of documentation, he stated in the local paper that "most of the horses [at Sugarcreek auction] are either wild or old." His only concern appeared to be that people called a phone number that is "only for his constituents" and had asked him to make Baker pay the $172,000.00 fine he still owes the federal government.
If you would like to contact Mayor Johnson about something other than the fine, please send an email to MayorJohnson@villageofsugarcreek.com or call him at 330-852-4112. Please refrain from calling 330-852-2271.
Alternatively, Humane Officer Busch's contributions made the meeting more productive and enhanced the potential for positive outcomes. Though he works full-time and is paid only $500 per month as the county humane officer, he offered to take time off of his regular job every Friday in order to
attend the auction, to check for compliance with animal cruelty laws and to check for Baker's adherence to promised changes.
Ohio Highway Patrol Trooper/Commercial Vehicle Division SGT Wolfe was very interested in several issues AA investigators had observed weekly at the auction, including the large number of out-of state pick up trucks delivering horses to the auction without valid DOT numbers. Despite Baker's explosive complaints, he agreed to increase inspections on Fridays in Sugarcreek based on our complaints.
According to Animals' Angels Director and attorney Sonja Meadows, "If the agreed upon changes are implemented, the major problems at Sugarcreek auction will be resolved. That is a huge benefit for the animals."
Investigators will be present at upcoming auctions to monitor for promised changes. If the agreed upon changes are not implemented, additional measures and a major campaign to elicit the cooperation of Baker and local officials is planned. "This is a very good start but promises must become actions. They are by no means 'off the hook'," said Meadows.
The local newspaper account is a bit confusing , but it did herald that changes are due at Sugarcreek auction. The article may be viewed at