The owner of an Osage County farm and pig museum said she will not comply with state regulators’ requests to change living arrangements for her more than 12 dozen cats.
Cindy Brenneke owns the 62-acre Where Pigs Fly Farm, 2810 U.S. 50 East, just east of Linn. During a Sept. 10 inspection, state regulators found cats and dogs at the farm living in squalor and said Brenneke must change living arrangements for the animals to comply with regulations governing animal shelters.
About 500 animals live on the property, which also features a petting zoo and pig museum, Brenneke said.
Sami Jo Freeman, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Agriculture, said Brenneke must keep all cats and dogs on the property in properly enclosed spaces and away from the petting zoo and museum exhibition spaces.
Brenneke contends the cats serve a purpose on the working part of the farm by keeping mice away.
“We have a lot of food, feeding 500 animals,” Brenneke said. “It’s just a haven for mice if they’re allowed to enter unrestricted.”
Brenneke bought the farm in October 2015 and moved her rescue animal operation there. A petting zoo and 2,400-square-foot pig museum also operate on the property. Animals including cattle, hogs, dogs, sheep, goats, donkeys, ducks, alpaca and even peacocks live on the farm.
A complaint by a woman who visited the farm in June drove state regulators to open an investigation, according to Freeman and records obtained by the News Tribune. The woman said she saw a horse with a gaping and oozing wound in its chest, grain sacks covered in flies and mold, and rodents living in muddy pens with chickens and pigs.
When regulators from the Missouri Department of Agriculture’s Division of Animal Health inspected the farm in September, they found animals — including 154 cats — living in similar conditions. In all, state regulators found at least 18 items non-compliant with the state’s law governing animal shelters, according to an inspection report.
Cats and dogs in animal shelters must live on surfaces impervious to moisture, according to the report. At the farm, dogs and cats live mostly in sheds on concrete and wooden floors, which are not impervious to moisture, the report noted, and other animals are housed in outdoor recreation areas on dirt.
“Bare dirt cannot be properly cleaned and sanitized,” the report stated.
Enclosures must be constructed to prevent outside, and un-conditioned, cats from getting into the general population of a shelter, according to the report. This serves as a disease control mechanism for shelters.
Regulators also found numerous cats and dogs suffering from hair loss and directed Brenneke to isolate those animals from other parts of the general population.
Brenneke told the News Tribune she takes good care of the animals. She views them as her pets and refuses to euthanize sick animals. She occasionally has let visitors adopt animals from the farm in the past, but she stopped that practice because she wants her rescue animals to live out their days at Where Pigs Fly.
Last year, the farm rescued 350 animals, Brenneke said, and they all received proper vaccinations.
During the inspection, regulators found Brenneke was treating four kittens for upper respiratory infections. Regulators also found a kitten weighing 2 pounds with fleas that Brenneke told them was too young for flea treatment.
Regulators said each shelter must employ an attending veterinarian under “formal arrangements” and keep individual medical records for each animal. State regulators found the quality of veterinary care received by animals at Where Pigs Fly could not be determined because of a lack of details, according to the report.
Brenneke maintained she meets this requirement. A local veterinarian services the farm when needed, and other veterinarians are on standby, she said.
“It’s not like the animals aren’t being taken care of,” Brenneke said. “They are being well taken care of.”
The Where Pigs Fly Pig Museum, which Brenneke calls “the only pig museum in America,” draws visitors from across the world. During the years, Brenneke said, people from Norway, Finland and Japan have stopped by.
Brenneke’s farm also operates as a regular farm. Last month, the farm sold 112 hogs, she said. Still, 250 pigs on the farm are rescue animals and will live out their lives out there. Revenue from the museum and petting zoo operation makes up about 50 percent of Where Pigs Fly’s revenue, Brenneke said.
Freeman, from the Agriculture Department, said Where Pigs Fly applied for a license under Missouri’s Animal Care Facilities Act on Aug. 22. Where Pigs Fly falls under this law because it charges a fee or donation to interact with the dog and cat exhibitions.
If Brenneke needs to, she said, she’s willing to shut down the museum and petting zoo to keep her cats and dogs from being housed in cages.
Shutting down the museum and petting zoo would solve about half of the issue, Freeman said. The state considers an animal shelter a place that takes in dogs or cats, adopts out dogs or cats, or harbors dogs or cats as a nonprofit. Several acceptable housing options besides caging exist, Freeman said.
“It is not our intention in any way to shut her down,” Freeman said. “This law is in place to ensure that any facility providing care to animals focuses on the health and well-being of the animals in their care.”
Brenneke hopes the Agriculture Department will give her an exemption from the law. Department officials will help Brenneke through the process of finding a solution, Freeman said.
Brenneke made her position clear, though: the cats will not live in a confined setting.
“We will not lock the cats up,” Brenneke said. “You cannot run a farm without farm cats.”