The Transylvania Times -

Goat Kidnapping Draws Outside Interests

 

July 16, 2018



Never has Chase Owen, a Transylvania County sheriff’s detective, taken such a high volume of nationwide and international calls at the department.

“I’d say up to 3,000 and still coming,” he said.

People from Canada, Greece, Australia, Mexico and several from within the U.S. called the Sheriff’s Office over a few days.

“The vast majority are animal rights activists, and the thing is, I don’t know if I’ve received any calls from anyone in Brevard, or North Carolina,” Owen said.

Why would people from all over the world be calling a sheriff’s office in Transylvania County?

“‘I want you to stop the hunt for baby Rain,’ they tell me. ‘Let the goat live in peace,’” Owen said. “And I explain to them, ‘Hey, there is no active search for baby Rain.' We went to one house and spoke to that person, and it was the end of it.”

Rain, an infant goat, was taken from Sospiro Ranch on Limousine Lane in Pisgah Forest on Feb. 11.

The investigation led to the discovery of the driver’s license of 36-year-old Wayne Hsiung in the goat’s pen.

As previously reported, after the scene was investigated, Curtis Burnside, one of the owners of Sospiro Ranch, did an internet search for Hsiung and discovered that he is an animal rights activist, and co-founder of the San Francisco-based Direct Action Everywhere, an animal rights organization.

Investigators located the Facebook page for the organization and found a live stream of Hsiung and others taking the goat from the farm.

While watching the video, investigators observed Hsiung describing how he took the goat, as well as observing that there were three other males involved in the incident, two of whom could be identified as Ben Yu and Lewis Finn.

In the video, which can be found on Facebook under the organization’s name Direct Action Everywhere, Hsiung said this was the first time he had live streamed what he called an “open rescue,” and that the purpose was to take the goat “out of harm’s way” to prevent what he said would be an eventual inhumane death.

An “open rescue” is the process of taking an animal from a situation the person, or rescuer, perceives to be harmful to the animal and not hiding his or her identity as the person who performed the operation, such as when Hsiung left his license.

On the video, Hsiung and his crew communicated with viewers through the live streaming, and with their participation they named the goat “Rain” because it was raining the night of the incident.

Hsiung said he was going to take the goat to “an undisclosed location.”

In June, Transylvania County deputies arrested Hsiung when he landed at the Asheville Regional Airport. He was scheduled to speak at a sustainability conference in Asheville, and Hsiung received a bond of $25,000.

His charges are one felony count of breaking and entering, one felony count of larceny after breaking and entering, and one misdemeanor count of first-degree trespassing.

He returned to District Court on July 5 for a probable cause hearing, which was continued to Aug. 30, when Hsiung is required to return to Transylvania County.

Officers got a tip that the “undisclosed location” where Rain was taken was a residence in Henderson County.

“We got a tip saying this goat was with this person, so we went to her house and asked if she had the goat, and gave her two choices: she can produce the goat or be charged with felony possession of stolen property,” Owen said. “She did not produce the goat and told us that she was instructed, if we showed up, that she needed to call her attorney, and that was the end of the conversation.”

She did, however, acknowledge that she knows where the goat is, Owen said.

“But we have no way of tracking it down, and we can’t just get a search warrant for every 10 farms we think the goat is at,” he said.

After they followed that lead, Owen said, Hsiung posted a video on Facebook saying that there was a “statewide manhunt for the goat.”

“Obviously, I have much better things to do than get involved in a statewide manhunt for a goat,” Owen said.

In the video, Hsiung said, “they are trying to send Rain back to slaughter after Direct Action Everywhere rescued him from a cruel meat farm,” and that the officers threatened the woman with “two felony charges if she didn’t turn over the goat.”

“Her crime? She took a goat dying of pneumonia to the vet and adopted that goat into her family,” Hsiung said in the video.

Owen said that Hsiung maintains that Rain was sick with pneumonia and “laying in its own feces.”

“If you watch the video, you can tell that this is a far cry from the truth,” Owen said. “The pens were clean, and the goat wasn’t sick when they stole it; it got sick as a result of it being taken away from its mother and their not knowing how to take care of it.”

Owen said he’s been to Sospiro Ranch several times, and saw no evidence of animal cruelty.

“I go with the evidence that I can see with my own two eyes,” Owen said. “I’ve been to that farm on multiple occasions, and the place is clean, and the animals look to be well taken care of.”

Though he said the department isn’t actively hunting for the whereabouts of Rain, he said, if they get a tip, they will follow it.

“We are still working on the investigation because there were three other people involved, as well as those who were with him at the farm who have not been arrested yet, so there is still an active investigation, which involves us trying to locate the property,” Owen said.

Owen added that he’s received calls on “both sides of the spectrum,” mostly animal rights activists, but also many farmers demanding Hsuing’s prosecution.

The question Owen asked is, why Hsiung chose to come here.

“From everything I’ve watched about him and this group, their mission is to get animal rights up to human standards, and they believe no animal should be killed, and they want to get laws passed to where you can’t unnecessarily kill animals,” Owen said.

Owen said his focus, however, is on the law.

“State law says you can’t break into someone else’s property and steal someone else’s property, and at the end of the day, what he did was felony breaking and entering and felony larceny,” Owen said.

Wayne Hsiung

Hsiung isn’t a stranger to courtrooms, nighttime farm break-ins or felony charges.

He’s currently facing nine felony and three misdemeanor charges filed within the recent month from investigations in Colorado, California, Utah and North Carolina.

His name and organization have surfaced in media outlets such as The Washington Post, The Intercept, The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, CBS, ABC and, now, The Transylvania Times.

His operations range from taking three dogs from a festival in China called the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, in which, in a span of 10 to 15 days, thousands of dogs are traditionally beaten to submission, or unconsciousness, then gutted and boiled, all to bring good luck for the summer solstice, according to local tradition.

Hsiung and Julianne Perry, a member of Direct Action Everywhere, were taken into custody in China and interrogated for two days, then deported.

In addition to the dogs, they were able to smuggle out footage of a slaughterhouse housing the dogs for the festival, which was aired on ABC in 2016, and brought celebrity attention, such as actors Joaquin Phoenix and Matt Damon.

Hsiung also got the attention of the FBI when he live streamed himself and others entering a factory farm called Circle Four Farms, owned by Smithfield Food hog farms, in Utah, and filmed conditions of their facility, which involves the practice of “gestational crating,” a metal crating technique for pigs.

The crate is no bigger than their own bodies so that they can’t turn around and can only stand, looking forward.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, gestational crating, also known as a “sow stall,” was developed “as a way to make efficient use of space and keep expenses low while preserving good nutrition and health of individual sows.”

Gestational crating is banned in Canada, the United Kingdom and Sweden and in nine states in the U.S., including Arizona, California and Colorado.

It was in one of the gestational crates that Hsiung and his crew found, as documented in The Intercept through photography, a pig that had given birth to piglets that had starved to death in the crate beneath the mother.

Two remained alive, and those were the ones Hsiung and his crew took, which brought the attention of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of Justice and the FBI, who, unlike officers in Transylvania County, actually did go on a “manhunt,” for the piglets.

According to The Intercept, in 2017, “a six-car armada of FBI agents in bullet proof vests, armed with search warrants, descended upon two small shelters for abandoned farm animals . . ..”

The FBI, with their own veterinarian, clipped two inches off the tips off of the ears of the piglets in two different rescue farms in order to obtain DNA evidence they needed to identify the piglets as the ones stolen.

In a recent phone interview with The Transylvania Times, when asked if he was worried about the many charges he faces, Hsiung said he is.

“I care, for sure,” he said. “I have an elderly father who is 70 plus years old, a family and two dogs I adore, but at the same time I know that there are other creatures on this earth suffering immensely.”

Given the choice of avoiding suffering, or taking on suffering in an attempt to assist someone else, Hsiung said he has chosen to not avoid suffering if it means others continue to be in pain, even if it means jeopardizing his freedom.

A lawyer himself, Hsiung grew up in central Indiana, but his parents grew up in southern China.

His parents took him to visit China when he was 9 years old, and they visited a restaurant where dogs were beaten to death before they were cooked and eaten.

“For me, as a kid growing up in central Indiana with a dog as my best friend, hearing these dogs be beaten traumatized me,” he said. “I was crying uncontrollably, and it had become a nightmarish experience.”

He said he remembers telling his mom and dad that they had to save the dogs, but they told him it is the culture here, “just how it is.”

“That was the first time in my life that I realized that some of the things that people taught might not be right just because it’s law or culture,” Hsiung said.

There is a myth in our own culture, Hsiung said, that animals are treated well in factory farms.

“One of the reasons we investigate these small-scale farms is we’ve found time and time again that as long as animals are (commodities), they are inevitably abused because any time you treat a living creature as a commodity, whether it’s a human being or animal, their welfare will be compromised,” Hsiung said.

Modern agricultural business and farming, he said, have left necessity behind and moved into the profit business, which leaves only room for the suffering of animals, when, he said, it’s unnecessary.

Hsiung adds that this isn’t about attacking anyone, or the farmers from where he said he took Rain.

“I think the people of Transylvania County are compassionate people, even the officers who have been very polite, calling me ‘sir,’” Hsiung said.

His goal, Hsiung said, is to alleviate suffering and to “expose violence behind closed doors.”

“No one wants to see an animal suffer, and that’s all this was about,” Hsiung said. “We’ve been labeled outside terrorists coming in and attacking a way of life, but we are just ordinary citizens — school teachers, police officers, lawyers and nurses who believe in compassion for animals, and we know most people would agree. Animals ought not be tortured, or killed, and we want to evolve our society in that direction.”

The label of animal rights terrorist, he said, is misinformation and fear mongering created by the agricultural industry to protect their business.

“I’m a lawyer, a law professor with no criminal record, so when someone like me engages in an act of civil disobedience, I think it has a different sort of impact as someone the system can degenerate as an anarchist,” Hsiung said. “I’m doing these things from compassion and asking others to support us in this.”

Denise Bitz, founder of Brother Wolf Animal Rescue in Asheville, where many people of Western North Carolina have gotten their rescue animals, was with Hsiung in court, along with others, and said she supports Hsiung’s open rescue operations.

“I just got arrested on a mass open rescue in California about a month ago, and I believe firmly in removing animals, whether they are dogs, cats, goats, pigs, cows or chickens, from these systems that are inherently cruel, whether they call themselves a factory farm or a humane farm,” Bitz said. “There is no humane way to kill an animal that does not want to die, so we are all here to support Wayne in this open rescue.”

Two Sides

The Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office and Hsiung have different stories about whether Rain was in an “inherently cruel” situation.

As Owen earlier stated, the department believes Rain came down with pneumonia after the goat was removed from the mother and did not receive proper care.

According to Hsiung, the goat had pneumonia due to its living conditions.

“The evidence is clear that Rain had bacterial pneumonia, and we can share the veterinary records documented within hours of his rescue, and I’ve said this many times, I don’t have magical powers, and it would take Godly powers to induce pneumonia in a goat in such a short amount of time, and it’s just not possible,” Hsiung said. “But I don’t fault the farmer or the sheriff’s department for believing these things because it’s misinformation, and no one has asked us or contacted us at all. I was just arrested when I landed in Asheville, but no one tried to get our side of the story.”

Hsiung said it’s about the question of “intent,” as well.

“They are saying we intended to steal the goat, but our intent is to document animal cruelty, and we saw that the animal was sick and decided to rescue him,” Hsiung said.

Unsuccessful attempts have been made to reach out to the Sospiro Ranch for a statement, but this statement was posted on its website, http://www.pisgahgoats.com, which stated that Rain was not the first goat to have been taken from their ranch: “Allegation: The second baby was taken because it was sick, locked in a stall and languishing in feces. This baby (Freddy, called Rain by Direct Action Everywhere) was only six days old when he was taken from a clean, dry stall and heated incubator space, away from his brother Eddie and his mother who was nursing him, out into a cold February night and pouring rain. Freddy was healthy and had been nursing well from his mother at the time of the theft.”

The first goat was taken in the summer of 2017.

According to the blog, the allegation is that “the first baby was sick and not being cared for or treated for its illness. The first baby (Buddy) was taken on the fifth day of a 10-day treatment for coccidia — with meds from our vet — and was improving. Coccidia is not deadly when treated promptly, which we were doing daily.”

Owen confirms another investigation is underway into the first goat theft, but charges have not been filed, yet.

Hsiung confirms that they did take another goat from the farm and said the goat had coccidia and was “severely malnourished.”

“Even the vet who inspected him said there was something seriously wrong with the goat, which was visible in the horns,” Hsiung said. “Again, I don’t even fault the farmers. The problem is the system that legally, politically and economically commodifies the animals, forcing them to cut costs so they can produce as much product as possible; otherwise, they can’t survive.”

According to the state of North Carolina, however, whether or not the goat was sick is a non-issue.

“The law is very straight forward, and there are legal channels to take when there are animals being abused, and it’s against the law to go on someone’s property and steal from them," said District Attorney Greg Newman.

If the evidence supports the charge against Hsiung, Newman said they will prosecute it that way, and, if convicted, he will ask that Hsiung goes to jail.

“I’m going to treat him like anyone else,” Newman said. “The goat is property, and its health is irrelevant to North Carolina law.”

 
 

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