Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters


Stanley Park petting-zoo goats may have been slaughtered

February 13, 2012 Vancouver Sun

VANCOUVER — Vancouver park board staff fear most of the pygmy and dwarf goats retired from the Stanley Park Children’s Farmyard were sold for meat at a local auction yard.

In January 2011, as part of its plan to close the popular petting zoo, the park board said it closely screened and then gave a small Langley hobby farm 17 goats and four sheep under a strict adoption agreement that would allow the animals to live out the rest of their days in peace and safety.

The rest of the large menagerie of pets, including another seven goats, two cows, 26 sheep, two pot-bellied pigs, two donkeys, a llama, a pony and an assortment of birds, rabbits and other small animals, was spread to 12 other approved adoption homes.

Auction records reveal that within weeks of his Jan. 31, 2011 adoption of nine wether (castrated male) goats and eight doe (female) goats, Langley hobby farmer Trevor French began getting rid of the animals, violating clauses in the signed contract that prevented their sale or disposal. Fraser Valley Auctions confirmed that on at least four occasions last year, French brought in goats for sale.

Goats that went by the names of Kahlua, Jack, Daniels, Tina, Tink, Tank, Sammy, Andy, Charlie, Chester, Champ, Cadbury, Minnie, Shyka, Sadie and Sierra are gone or unaccounted for. Former farmyard staffers shown Sun photos of goats on French’s farm identified one, named Tryka, as being from Stanley Park. By French’s admission, the four sheep — Coco, Chanel, Krystal and Belle — are dead.

The park board is investigating after The Vancouver Sun was tipped by several people that most of the 17 goats, including all of the wethers and most of the does, had been sold at a local livestock auction yard. Within an hour of The Sun visiting French last week at his 28th Avenue home in Langley to try to find the herd, a senior park board official also did a site visit demanding to know where the animals were.

On Sunday, park board officials held a news conference to say they still didn’t know how many of the city’s goats were left at the hobby farm. Deputy general manager Peter Kuran will go to the farm today to try to seize any that can be identified as having come from the children’s farmyard.

The city has also contracted with the B.C. SPCA to visit all of the other adoption homes to check on the status of the remaining farmyard animals.

Park board chairwoman Constance Barnes said Sunday she has asked the city’s legal team “to take strong action up to and including suing the individual of this farm in question.” In an interview Friday, Barnes said she was devastated by the news of the missing goats. “I feel sick to my stomach. This is heartbreaking, really heartbreaking. This is my worst bloody nightmare,” she said. French also operates a raw dog food business and sells “all-natural” beef, lamb, turkeys and eggs.

Gordon Barber, the park board’s manager of revenue operations, said the park board did not know until told by The Sun that French sold meat for human and dog consumption under the name “Golden Ground Farms” or that he has been advertising the dog food business on Craigslist. Had the park board been aware of this during the screening process, French would have been ineligible for the adoption, Barber said.

French told The Sun he got rid of all of the horned goats first because they were “nasty” and “violent.” Others without horns were also later sent away. At first he claimed he “rehomed” them, selling them to friends. But he later changed the story to say he’d given them to people who responded to a bulletin board ad he said he put up at a local feed co-op. He said he kept at least one for his daughter, who he said renamed it “Honey” and was using it as a project in the local 4-H Club.

French said the four sheep had died, including two in coyote attacks at his fenced five-acre property. He denied selling any of the animals at the local auction yard, Fraser Valley Auctions, and said none went into his meat business, either for human or dog consumption.

“Anything with horns has been rehomed. They were just too nasty with the horns. We just couldn’t have anything with horns,” he said. “We sold them to friends.” He later followed up with an email saying he gave the animals away because he was in the middle of a “nasty” divorce that could cost him his home. He said his original statement that he sold the goats “was a slip of the word” and that he meant that he gave them away.

Both the park board and The Sun have asked him to provide contact information for where he’d “rehomed” the goats, but he has so far not responded. Initially he said he would look up the information but later said he may not have kept the names. He complained that the park board had only given him one day to provide the information. “It’s not going to happen in one day. It may not ever happen. Who keeps records of all of that?” French said.

Ken Pearson, the owner and auctioneer of Fraser Valley Auctions, the only small-animal auction yard in the Fraser Valley, said his auction records show that on at least four occasions last year, French brought in goats. Altogether there were 15, including nine pygmy or pygmy-cross wethers, many matching the description of the Stanley Park goats. The sales started on Feb. 19, nearly three weeks after French adopted the animals. The goats were sold to various buyers for between $107.50 and $170 each.

After seeing photographs of the Stanley Park goats that French and others had supplied to The Sun, Pearson confirmed that at least the first three lots sold were goats from those pictures. He said the first time he met French was early last year, when he asked about selling goats at the auction. “The first wether goats, the [first lots of] three, two and three, I remember them being horned wether goats and from the pictures I recognized the horned ones,” Pearson said.

Pearson said he specifically remembers French because the man tried to pass the castrated males off as “billies” or breeding males. “I remember every time he’d say they were billy goats and they were wethers and then I’d see him sitting in the crowd and I’d make sure I’d say, ‘Well, the man doesn’t know the difference between a billy and a wether,’” Pearson said.

Pearson said if he had known there was an adoption agreement forbidding their sale, he would never have allowed the goats to be sold at his yard. He also can’t recall French buying or selling animals at his auction before last year. “I didn’t know they were the Stanley Park goats then, I didn’t know who Trevor French was then. I think this was the first time we really started seeing this man,” Pearson said. “If I knew they couldn’t have been sold and it would come back to haunt me, absolutely I wouldn’t [have sold them]. Why would I put myself in that position?”

When told that Pearson remembered the sales, French expressed incredulity at the auctioneer’s memory and again denied he’d sent the animals to auction. “Really, Fraser Valley auction has a great memory of every goat I’ve brought in? That’s quite convenient,” French said. “He said that? Well you want to pull up the records of how many goats go through that auction every year, thousands, and he specifically remembers 14 goats?”

But Pearson, who has been an auctioneer for 30 years, said he has a good memory for animals. “The funny thing is, and people have trouble with this, I do remember animals like that. And people will argue about that,” he said. “I can recite auctions exactly ... I have a memory for animals. I can do that.”

French insisted the goats were all at his farm until at least July, when he said members of his Coquitlam Alliance Church came to see them. He provided The Sun with an email to the church’s bookkeeper who organized the visit, along with some photos French said confirmed the visit.

But Janice Doran, the bookkeeper, told The Sun the tour took place on March 20. And she said by her recollection, there were about 10 goats. She forwarded to The Sun the same email and more photographs of the visit, most of which she said were taken by French.

Pearson’s auction records show that by that time, French had sold the first two groups of wethers totalling five animals. After the church visit, he sold another 10, three (wethers) on March 26 and another seven (six does, one wether) on April 2.

Pearson said “all the wether goats are meat for sure” as people would not have bought mature castrated males as pets. He said there is a remote chance the six does might still be alive if they were bought by someone who wanted to breed them. He said his auction records show the wethers were sold for between $140 and $170 each. The does went for between $107.50 and $110 each.

When The Sun visited French at his home, he identified to a reporter and photographer one female goat he called “Honey” that he said was from Stanley Park and was due to give birth. He also had three other goats, none of which he specifically identified as being former Stanley Park farmyard animals. One of them had recently given birth.

On Friday, Barnes said she fretted about how children who had loved the animals would take the news. “I can handle this, I am an adult. But my concern is for the kids and the little ones out there that knew those creatures, and to whom we made a promise that they were going to better homes. We were taking them out of the environment they were in because they deserved to live their lives out in a really lovely, beautiful kind of space.” “I am worried about the kids and what are the moms and dads going to be telling their little ones, and what about the people who loved those animals and worked there. They were their family.”

Barnes said she wants to know if the park board did enough to make sure the animals were treated well. But she was extremely angry at French’s description of the goats as “nasty” and “violent.” “They were nasty? They were petting goats. Then give them back. We’d relocate them. Call the park board, call the city. He had other options than what he’d done with them,” she said. “We had people begging for those animals.”

The park board said it had done extensive screening of all potential adoptees of its animals, and had immediately discarded from the pile of more than 100 applications any petting zoos, commercial farm operations or places that sold meat. “We didn’t want any of the animals to go to any kind of a commercial enterprise, so if it was another petting zoo or someone that ran a business, particularly if the business on site related to the raising of animals to be slaughtered and used for food purposes [they were screened out],” Barber said.

Staff did a site visit of every shortlisted adoption home, and also insisted on at least two references, including one from a veterinarian, he explained.

According to the park board, French signed his “animal adoption contract” on Jan. 31. The two-page contract spelled out numerous provisions, including that he would “give these animals humane treatment and care at all times for the remaining life of the animal.” It also specified that he could “not sell, trade, loan or give away these animals unless authorized by the Vancouver park board” and that they couldn’t be used for roping or cruel sports.

Barber said the park board visited French’s hobby farm in late January before he was approved. On April 26, staff also received a further report and photos from French about the purported health of the animals. But according to Fraser Valley Auction’s records, by that time French had already sold 15 goats at auction.

The park board provided The Sun with records showing the name, type, sex and age of every animal it placed at French’s home. The information also contained veterinarian and feeding records. Two of the sheep, Krystal and Belle, were 13 years old. The other two, Coco and Chanel, were born three years ago. Of the 17 goats French received, four were African Pygmy, seven were Nigerian dwarf and the rest were unspecified. Most of the goats were about five years old. The youngest were Minnie, Jack and Daniels, aged three. The oldest was Tryka, 11.

Update and comment: Tryka, the12-year-old Nigerian Dwarf, who is pregnant and due to kid out in about three weeks, has been turned over by French. Former Children's Farmyard employee Shirley Schebel, park board general manager Malcolm Bromley and an animal control officer has brought her to the Stanley Park animal hospital. (used for treating injured park wildlife) Meanwhile, former staff at the now-closed Stanley Park Children’s Farmyard said Monday they warned the Vancouver park board it was rushing the process for disposing of the zoo animals and that mistakes could lead to some of the pets ending up in the slaughterhouse.

The B.C. SPCA visited French’s farm last Friday and confirmed that all of the animals still there were well cared for and there was no reason to seize the animals for mistreatment. Lorie Chortyk, the SPCA’s communications manager, said the agency is not doing any investigation of French but was there at the request of the park board because it had been named in the adoption agreement. Chortyk added that the agency was unaware the Board had included the agency in the agreement. She pointed out that French violated no provincial laws if he sent the goats to slaughter since “farm animals go to auction all over B.C.” The violation would have been of his contract with the city. (Former Stanley Park petting zoo staff say they warned park board about possible slaughter, Vancouver Sun 02/12/12)

As the blame game carries on, we’ll wait to see how the rest of this mess sorts itself out. It’s always the animals, though, who end up paying the ultimate price because of people. Betrayed, sacrificed, let down, bought and sold as mere commodities, ignored, oppressed, condemned to die…it’s all so very wrong, so evil, so criminal.  

How the Park Board missed the fact that French runs a meat business out of his 28th Ave. hobby farm is inexplicable. A simple Internet search would have caught that. And what French did was a clear violation of his contract, and a damning indictment on his moral character. No conscious at all. These goats were meant to live out their lives, lovingly cared for in an environment where they could just do what goats do. Now they may have been sold at auction and slaughtered for meat.    

On Stanley Park’s missing goats and auction houses

February 13, 2012 Jeff Lee, Vancouver Sun

The revelations that many of the beloved pet goats from Stanley Park’s now-closed Children’s Farmyard may have been sold for meat is sure to outrage a lot of people.

If past public sentiment over Stanley Park animals are any indication, there will undoubtedly be calls for the heads of park board officials, the sacking of City Hall and a general hate on for auction houses, slaughterhouses and anything resembling the meat production industry.

But before we all go gnashing our teeth, rending our clothes or sharpening the cudgels, let’s keep a few things in perspective.

The story of where in the world the majority of the Vancouver park board’s Pygmy and African Dwarf goats have gone is a tragic one. It would appear, based on my investigations, that at least 15 were sent to Fraser Valley Auctions by a Langley hobby farmer who passed the park board’s (at least rudimentary) screening test. Whether the park board did enough has yet to be determined. Some will say no. The park board probably says yes.

However, I can’t understand how they missed the fact that Trevor French, the person to whom they gave 17 goats and four sheep, runs a meat business out of his 28th Ave. hobby farm. Hey, even an internet check by a sixth-grader would pull up his company, “Golden Ground Farms”. And on Craigslist he’s been advertising a raw dog food business. Oops. Now, how’d they miss that when deciding where to put Kahlua, Jack and Daniels the goats?

There will also be lots of recriminations coming from former staff of the farmyard.  Some of them made impassioned pleas to the elected park board commissioners in the winter of 2010 last when the board chose to shut the park down. They warned that the speed with which the park board was acting could lead to mistakes in how the animals were transferred to adoptive homes. Deja vu?

I began working on this story on Thursday and received assistance from park board staff, who confirmed French had received some animals. Based on my information the park board sent a staffer on Friday to ascertain the whereabouts of the missing herd. They got there an hour after we did. When we told the park board we would publish the story in Monday’s edition, they agreed to hold off any public comment until then.

However, it seems that city management, fearing what understandably will become a major public controversy over their handling of the adoption process, decided to release a vague statement Sunday in advance of the story. They indicated they were alarmed at the possibility their once-cherished goats might have been sold at an auction house. Park Board Chair Constance Barnes and General Manager Malcolm Bromley would not tell the hastily-assembled reporters who the adopter was, saying it was now a legal matter. Uh, no it isn’t. Not yet, anyway.

It was a peculiar situation, holding a press conference to talk about something based on information they had been given by a reporter that had not yet been published. As an apparent exercise in damage control, I suspect it will become an example for crisis communications specialists of how not to deal with a problem.

In order to protect the work that had gone into the story, The Vancouver Sun chose to publish online only enough information to stay ahead of the story without, forgive the expression, giving away the farm. We’ve now published the full version of the story, including details of the auction records and interviews with the hobby farmer. It’s also our line story in Monday’s paper. But whatever you do, don’t blame the livestock auction yard in this tragedy.

Owner Ken Pearson, whose Fraser Valley Auction service has handled the petting zoo’s excess animals in other years, said he had no idea that animals brought to him by French were covered by a legal agreement that prevented their sale.

Pearson knows that running an animal auction yard doesn’t make him popular with the anti-meat, anti-captivity crowd. But he runs a respectable business and has been known to sideline potential sales when they breach ethical boundaries.

In fact, his cooperation on my story in today’s Vancouver Sun helped show that many of the goats French got from the children’s farmyard appeared to have been disposed of through the auction yard. Pearson doesn’t need the heat, but he saw the value in helping piece together a disturbing story.

A story about pets to thousands of children that were disposed of in violation of an agreement to not sell, give away or trade them. Whether the goats went to the auction yard or not, this is not about the moral value of animal agriculture. It’s about a breach of a promise made to care for animals that were raised as pets and that were meant to finish their lives as pets.

Every day tens of thousands of animals are born, raised and sent to packing houses in the service of civilization. Whether they are treated well is not the issue here. The issue is how it came to be that animals raised as pets and for whom the future was supposed to be bright — as far as the park board was concerned — ended up being disposed of by French.

Comment: Jeff Lee, blogger/reporter for the Vancouver Sun is trying to track down the goats. Records from Fraser Valley Auctions indicate that on April 2/11six does were sold to a fellow from 100 Mile House, who wanted them for breeding. However, his attempt at goat farming didn’t work out and his phone is out of service. Some old animals – not the Stanley Park does – came back through the auction. But most of the rest of the animals were sold and dispersed widely. Some animals went to Pitt Meadows, others to who knows where. Contact jefflee@vancouversun.com if you have any information.