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Shut down

Thursday, February 3, 2005

Williford kennel owners must pay fine of $250,000

C.C. Baird's kennels were shut down after he and family members signed a plea agreement with the United States Department of Agriculture Jan. 28 to avoid more than $1 million in fines for numerous violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

The agreement was signed by Chester C. "C.C." Baird, his wife, Patsy, and his two daughters, Jeanette Baird Thornhill and Patricia Baird. The Bairds owned and operated Martin Creek Kennels, a class B random-source kennel, and Pat's Pine Tree Farms, a class A facility used to breed and sell animals, near Williford. The licenses allowed them to sell dogs and cats to research facilities throughout the nation.

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service filed a 108-page complaint March 11, 2004, before the United States Department of Agriculture against the Bairds for mistreating the animals and not providing proper care.

The Bairds were to appear in federal court Jan. 24 but before the proceedings began the family said they were interested in reaching a plea agreement in which they neither admit nor deny the allegations against them.

Under the agreement :

* The family agreed to cease and desist from violating the act and its regulations and standards.

* C.C. and Patsy Baird were ordered to pay $250,000 in civil penalties.

* C.C. Baird was ordered to pay a $12,700 civil penalty.

* The Animal Welfare Act license issued to C.C. and Jeanette Baird for Martin Creek Kennels was revoked.

* The Animal Welfare Act license issued to Patsy and Patricia Baird for Pat's Pine Tree Farms was revoked.

* The Bairds will be on probation for five years and are not to engage in any activity for which an Animal Welfare Act license is required in any way. If they are found to violate their probation terms they will be assessed a $250,000 civil penalty.

In addition, the approximately 100 dogs and 180 cats on the Baird property will be the responsibility of APHIS until the organization can find rescue organizations to provide proper care and treatment for the animals. Until the animals can be transported the Bairds are to allow APHIS to enter their property to inventory and check on the animals' conditions.

The Bairds are to provide proper veterinary care to the animals at their expense until they can be removed from the property.

"We are delighted he is out of business," said Cathy Liss, president of the Animal Welfare Institute, based in Washington, D.C. "We see random-source animal dealers as a real problem because of the methods used to acquire the dogs and cats. A number of them are often stolen or acquired through fraud. This settlement is huge. It is the largest settlement I'm aware of reached through the USDA."

The Baird family has declined comment.

C.C. Baird's attorney did not return a phone call.

The complaint said the Bairds "have continually treated hundreds of animals cruelly and inhumanely, in myriad ways, including failing to provide them with the most basic needs: sufficient and nutritive food, fresh water, safe shelter and adequate veterinary care."

The kennels were constructed of cinder blocks, which limited the air movement within the facility and increased the heat inside the building. The Bairds had no fans or air conditioning available in the kennels and did not have adequate equipment to keep the facility clean and sanitary.

The complaint alleged the animals on the Baird's property suffered from dehydration, malnutrition, infections, lacerations, puncture wounds, abrasions, swelling, lameness, lethargy, conjunctivitis, mange and flea infestations. APHIS said the Bairds failed to provide proper veterinary care for the animals' conditions.

The complaint said the Bairds "knowingly falsified official health certificates for unknown numbers of dogs and cats and paid their attending veterinarian (who had not examined the animals) to supply them with blank, undated, signed health certificates for dogs and cats, which the Bairds completed with false information, and used in connection with the sale of the animals to research facilities."

A team of 27 federal agents raided the Bairds' kennel on Aug. 26, 2003. Approximately 700 dogs were at the farm the day of the raid and approximately 125, mostly hounds, beagles and Lab mixes, were seized and taken to Little Rock where they were dispersed to rescue organizations.

C.C. Baird is one of the largest of the 27 random-source animal dealers in the United States, according to Liss. The Bairds sell more than 3,000 dogs a year to institutions such as the University of Arkansas, University of Arkansas Medical Center, University of Missouri, University of Mississippi, Colorado State University and the University of Wisconsin, according to the institute.

Baird was convicted of violating the Act in 1997 and was fined $5,000. In that case Judge James Hunt ruled that the Bairds failed to verify information given to him by his suppliers and failed to maintain his records fully and correctly, the institute said.

Chris DeRose, founder of Los Angeles-based animal rights group Last Chance for Animals, said Baird's demise comes from his organization's 15-year investigation of Martin Creek Kennels. The organization went undercover and acquired more than 70 hours of video surveillance footage from Baird's facility, which even included footage of dogs shot to death on the property, DeRose said.

The information and footage was handed over to federal authorities which prompted the raid, he said.

DeRose said "bunchers" stole animals on C.C. Baird's behalf throughout the nation. DeRose and his organization is lobbying to eradicate B dealer licenses.

The U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins has not filed criminal charges on the Bairds. He would not comment if or when charges would be filed.

"I think that is an ongoing process," said Cherith Beck, executive assistant to Cummins. "It's still in the investigative stage. There's a huge amount of information to go through."

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