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April 19, 2013

THEIR VIEW: Death farm violates human decency

The gruesome scene in northern Madison County was beyond comprehension, reminiscent of the worst grade Z horror film imaginable. To those county and state workers who were on the scene, it will be nightmare they will never wake up from. The scene of more than 100 animal corpses and the few living but emaciated animals makes a normal person wretch in disgust.

The farmhouse, west of Summitville, was isolated and the bodies piled up without anyone knowing. As temperatures got warmer, however, the smell began to waft toward the neighbors and someone knew what was going on wasn’t right.

The shame of it was that no one knew sooner when these animals could have been saved.

The owners of the farm, Daniel and Carrie Ault — who also reportedly run a meat-packing plant in Marion and have an interest in the Strawtown Auction of animals — played it off as business as usual. Daniel said he was overwhelmed with his business obligations, and added that he loses animals from stress and shipping, plus he got some bad hay to feed them.

This argument shouldn’t be taken seriously. When people become overwhelmed, the first thing they do is request help. The Aults didn’t do that, and the animal carcasses piled up. Authorities on the scene said there was no food or water for the living animals who wandered among the dead.

When those animals were rescued and taken to homes, they ate and drank furiously. One sheriff’s deputy said they had trouble keeping a water tank full because the animals were drinking so fast.

While these animals were dying, a House committee approved a bill to prohibit undercover videotaping at farms and factories. Rep. Bill Friend, R-Macy, said he sponsored the bill to stop activists from defaming farms and businesses with misleading videos. Detractors of the bill said, rightly, that dangerous conditions might not be found and whistleblowers could be in legal jeopardy. When operations take place without accountability, scenes like the Summitville farm are made easier.

Apparently, this so-called ag-gag bill has been altered so that videotaping and photos will be allowed. The latest version focuses only on criminal trespass and those who gain employment by giving false information in order to gain access to inside information. But if anything could convince legislators that there should be unrelenting scrutiny on farms and factories, the appalling scene in northern Madison County would be example A.

Prosecutor Rodney Cummings has yet to determine what charges will be filed against the Aults.

A petition was presented to Cummings advocating the Aults be charged with multiple felonies, but Cummings has to follow the law despite the emotions that might be running high. The Aults are innocent until proven guilty. We do advocate that Cummings prosecute the Aults to the maximum allowed by law. What was found on that farm violates everything decent in human beings.

The Aults will have their day in court but in the meantime, what can people do to make sure something like this never happens again? Sadly, not much. Animals are property, and their owners can get away with a lot, even deliberate mistreatment. Most of what happens won’t be observed by others.

If it is observed, however, report the offending person. If you see emaciated animals, report where they are. And yes, use your video camera.

— The Herald Bulletin

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