Where Pigs Fly farm story fails to cover issue

By: 
Nan Taylor-Keilholz
DVM

Recent news coverage of the results of the Missouri Department of Agriculture’s August inspection of the “Where Pigs Fly” facility and owner Cindy Brenneke’s reaction to the Department’s demands have failed to thoroughly cover the issue.

KRCG, KOMU as well as the UD itself have all ran stories that seem to have given many people a warm, fuzzy feeling about the facility while vilifying the Missouri Department of Agriculture’s attempts to respond to concerns and enforce regulations meant to protect animal welfare and more importantly protect people from zoonotic (diseases that can be transmitted from animals to people) diseases.

Arguments about the definition of farms, animal shelters, and petting zoos could rage indefinitely, but surely no rational person believes that a 62-acre farm needs over 100 cats for rodent control.

Modern chemistry has for the most part taken cats out of the rodent-control business years ago. Although Osage County has its share of rodents, it doesn’t have a huge rodent problem. Osage County does have a stray pet problem! A problem caused by irresponsible pet owners.

Ms. Brenneke is one of many victims of this problem. She is, in her own good-hearted, well-intentioned way, trying to help Osage County with its unwanted pet problem.  Well-intentioned animal lovers allow sexually intact animals that they are feeding to roam free and mate with other sexually intact animals, creating litters of unwanted pets. Their numbers quickly overwhelm the animal lover and their neighbors. Anyone who is feeding unsterilized free-roaming cats and dogs is enabling them to reproduce. These unwanted pets frequently get dumped or abandoned at businesses, homes, and on roads and highways throughout the county. The lucky survivors get found by compassionate individuals that “rescue” them and are quickly overwhelmed with more animals than they can handle themselves.

Although thorough coverage of the story, (including asking neighbors how they feel about having over 100 free roaming cats next door, how many dead cats do highway department workers scrape off of Highway 50 in the vicinity of the facility, asking the Missouri Department of Conservation what the impact of having over 100 free roaming cats is, or where did the 100 cats come from?) wouldn’t make for a story with a “warm fuzzy” feeling, it might make people think.

Why do people who find lost or abandoned pets have nowhere to take them in Osage County? How do other rural counties handle their stray/unwanted pet population? Instead of signing on-line petitions that may give you a “warm fuzzy feeling” do some actual research while you are on your computer. Here are some ideas — Google - Zoonotic diseases of cats. Google - Lifespan of free roaming cats vs. house cats. Google - How are animal shelters funded? Google - How to start an animal shelter.

Maybe get together with some like-minded individuals, advertise and have a meeting. Contact your elected officials to discuss your ideas and potential funding. Even if a wealthy philanthropist were to donate enough money to build a facility, it would take a consistent flow of funds to keep it going. To me this means government support, tax payer dollars, private donations, and fund raising. It is easy to see that there is a problem and sign a petition, but much more difficult to propose an affordable, and practical solution. 

Osage County needs an animal shelter. That is a fact. It is also a fact that well-run, viable animal shelters are very expensive to operate. In addition to the obvious expenses associated with feeding, housing, and health care of the animals there is also liability associated with taking in animals and adopting animals out.

Lawyers, bookkeepers, grant writers, and many smart, hardworking compassionate people with a variety of skills would be needed.  Maybe a cooperative shelter with an adjacent county would reduce the cost? Everyone may not agree on how it should look or be funded but let’s not make Cindy Brenneke or the Missouri Department of Agriculture the enemy. Hopefully everyone who has an opinion on the topic has first and foremost the health and welfare of the citizens of Osage County in mind and secondly the health and welfare of the animals in mind.

Certainly, this is not the most important problem that Osage County faces, but if we are going to discuss it, let’s identify the real problem and try to find a solution based on facts and science, not just feelings and opinions.