Wesa-A-Geh-Ya deemed not a sanctuary by Judge

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Last modified: Wednesday, May 14, 2008 8:21 AM CDT

Wesa-A-Geh-Ya owner guilty of not registering animals

By Sarah Whitney

Wesa-A-Geh-Ya owner Ken Smith was found guilty May 6 on a single misdemeanor charge of failing to register dangerous animals with the Warren County Sheriff's Department.

Ken Smith and his wife, Sandra, said they plan to appeal.

"I think it was set in writing before we made it to trial," Sandra Smith said. "I think it was already judged and denied."

The violation occurred June 1 when Sheriff Kevin Harrison and Jim Kingsley, with the Missouri Department of Conservation, visited Wesa-A-Geh-Ya, located on Highway A in Warren County, to perform an inspection.

Harrison said Ken Smith – who has always allowed the sheriff's department onto his property – took the two around the compound.

"I simply started a tally sheet, which I then compared to the record book Sandra had made for me," he said.

The Smiths stated that Harrison did not have his record book on that day, but Harrison said he had it in his car.

Harrison and Kingsley discovered a discrepancy between the number of arctic wolves Sandra had previously registered with the department and seven or eight wolves currently living in the compound.

"There were more wolves at the facility that were not registered," Harrison said.

There also were fewer animals there of other species than what Harrison had registered, he said.

Ken Smith contended that the missing animals were ones that had died and been buried in the back of his property.

Sandra testified that no animals had been born or purchased for the facility since 2004. She explained that they rescue any new animals when they are older, so they die sooner.

Former neighbor and acquaintance of the Smiths, Rosella Baller, said the case is more important than people realize because it now provides a guide for future cases.

Baller – who testified against Ken – commended state Prosecutor Attorney Kate Busch for the result.

"I'm extremely pleased because they've proven now that the place is not a refuge, it's just a breeding facility," she said.

According to state law, no person may keep any number of dangerous wild animals in any place other than a zoo, circus or a lab for scientific, research or educational purposes; or a veterinary hospital or animal refuge unless such person has registered such animals with the local law enforcement agency.

Patrick Coyne, Smith's attorney, argued that the statute does not apply to Smith because Wes-A-Geh-Ya's not-for-profit status makes the compound an animal sanctuary.

The Smiths testified that they started out as breeders when they first moved to the county 20 years ago, but after several of their animals were returned to them, they became a not-for profit in 1998.

Associate Judge Wes Dalton ruled that Wesa-A-Geh-Ya is not an animal sanctuary.

Sentencing is scheduled for June 3.

Dalton recommended a suspended sentence with probation for Smith, because he was not inclined to make the charges stay on Smith's permanent record because the Smiths do have some of their animals registered.

"I'm certain they'll double-check their records, so we don't have this happen again," he said.

Baller disagreed with Walton's assessment.

"I think it should be on their record permanent so they can't keep acquiring animals with no oversight," she said.

This is the not the first case the Smiths have faced.

In 2006, the Smiths relinquished their permit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture following a case that charged Sandra Smith with violating the Animal Welfare Act. The Smiths settled the case out of court without acknowledgement of guilt or wrongdoing.

For the cats,

Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL 33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457

http://www.BigCatRescue.org MakeADifference@BigCatRescue.org

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