Report of pig being mistreated at fair was inaccurate, witnesses say

Veterinarian saw no lacerations or wounds that were described by board member

Posted 9/9/21

A member of the Park County Fair Advisory Board was mistaken when she charged that a pig was mistreated at one of the fair’s market shows, people involved with the event …

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Report of pig being mistreated at fair was inaccurate, witnesses say

Veterinarian saw no lacerations or wounds that were described by board member

Posted

A member of the Park County Fair Advisory Board was mistaken when she charged that a pig was mistreated at one of the fair’s market shows, people involved with the event say.

“That’s not how it went down,” the youth swine show superintendent, Toni Perrine, said in an interview, “because I would have intervened myself.”

At a meeting last month, fair advisory board member Christy Muecke said a pig at a July show had been whipped across the face so much that its face bled and its eyes swelled shut.

“It was appalling,” Muecke said, noting that the pig later died. “That should not happen.”

The board discussed the incident and Muecke’s account of it at some length, wondering if it was necessary to modify some of the fair’s rules related to the treatment of animals at the fairgrounds.

However, several people who saw the pig either at the show or shortly afterwards indicated they did not see what Muecke described.

“I can tell you that the pig wasn’t [beaten] and it wasn’t bleeding out of its eyes … its eyes weren't swollen shut or none of that,” Perrine said.

Joe Bridges — who was asked to help when the pig began struggling to breathe after the July 29 market show — gave a similar account.

“I was at that fair the whole time, and I was literally at the pen of that pig when it passed away,” said Bridges, who has a background in raising swine. “And there was no eyes swelled, there was no blood.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Megan Gisonda of Powell Veterinary Services — who was summoned to examine the pig — said she found the animal “in excellent body condition and clean.”

“There was no evidence of lacerations or wounds to the pig’s body,” Gisonda wrote in a statement.

Perrine and the youth’s FFA adviser said marks did appear on the pig during the show, but said they seemed to stem from some kind of medical problem and not from any whipping.

The FFA adviser — who asked that his name be withheld to protect the identity of the youth — said the prize-winning pig had suffered health issues “from the get-go.” It was generally lethargic, he said, and bruised extremely easily; the adviser said he once watched the pig brush up against a fence and immediately develop a large scrape — looking like the kind of road rash a pig would get from falling out of a trailer.

“It wasn’t like it was something that just developed at the fair, or … from the heat,” he said.

During the swine show, the adviser said the pig initially turned a little pink and then, as the youth made a lap around the ring, it turned purple.

“It had all of us onlookers that knew what we were looking at talking to each other, like, what’s going on with this thing?” the adviser said. “Because he [the youth] clearly wasn’t beating it right then and there, and didn’t prior to that.”

Perrine added that “there was obviously something wrong with” the pig, saying the animal was turning red wherever it was touched.

The pig wound up being unable to make it down the alleyway leading out of the show ring, the adviser said. Bridges said the youth’s family got him “in a panic,” and Dr. Gisonda was summoned to the fairgrounds around 10 p.m.

Gisonda said she found the pig in “severe respiratory distress” with its skin a bluish color. She suspected it was overheating and tried saving the animal’s life, but it ultimately died.

In a postmortem examination, Gisonda said she found “gross irregularities to the heart muscle and the tricuspid valve” and “suspected a problem with the heart, possibly due to the stress the pig was in earlier in the evening.”

Conclusively determining the cause of death would have required sending tissues samples to a laboratory, which the family declined, but Gisonda said the presumptive cause “was overheating and possible heart issues.”

“Based on gross examination alone, I cannot definitively say that this is the certain cause of death, but it is most likely the cause based on my own as well as my colleague’s professional experiences,” she wrote in a Tuesday statement.

Back at the Aug. 10 Park County Fair Advisory Board meeting, board member Muecke shared her belief that the pig had been mistreated, adding that “we cannot allow that.” During the discussion that followed, other board members raised the possibility of altering the fair’s rules and/or training regarding the humane treatment of animals, wondering if the current policies are not explicit enough. They discussed the possibility of requiring an animal’s death to be reported to fair leaders and/or giving judges clearer powers to dismiss exhibitors who mistreat animals.

“It’s not my place to jump into the middle of the show and say stop,” Muecke said at the meeting.

However, Perrine, the swine superintendent, said the board member should have spoken up if she thought the animal was being abused.

“If she saw that, it’s her responsibility to stop in the middle of the show and, yes, intervene. … That’s part of her job,” Perrine said.

The superintendent added that she wished someone would have reached out to her with the concerns about the pig’s treatment. Perrine said she was angrered by the accusation of animal cruelty, reiterating that the pig was not beaten.

In an interview last week, Muecke reiterated her account, saying the pig was bleeding from its face.

“What I saw was not right,” she said.

The youth’s FFA adviser said he hadn’t found anyone who saw the pig being beaten — and that the family’s video footage of the show could confirm it was treated humanely.

Both Perrine and the adviser spoke highly of the youth who showed the pig, saying the teen is a hard worker who cares for his animals and wins showmanship awards because of their good condition.

When the youth works with his pigs at home, “in the pens with them, he’s laying on the ground and they’re snuggling around on him,” the FFA adviser said. “So the idea that he might have done that [mistreat the pig], I would have a hard time believing he would ever do that.”

The Tribune erroneously wrote in a prior story that the pig had been shown at the Park County Junior Livestock Sale. In fact, the animal died two days before the sale.

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