State Fair officials find no wrongdoing in abuse report

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Officials have investigated a complaint of animal abuse involving pigs at the Michigan State Fair, but found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Laurie Keenan of Farmington Hills said she was at the Fifth Third Bank Michigan State Fair on Thursday afternoon when she saw two animal handlers violently beating four pigs with whips. Keenan said the handlers, a man and a woman, appeared to be corralling the animals into pens.

When one pig was not moving in the right direction, the man began to smack the pig with his hand and forearm, Keenan said. Keenan then said she looked at a light-colored pig and saw marks she thought came from the whips.

“I won’t go back,” Keenan told The Detroit News. “I had a breakdown.”

Officials found no evidence of animal abuse, said Jackie Scramlin, director of the state fair in Novi. The fair veterinarian checked out all of the pigs. They found no troubling marks on the animals, Scramlin said.

Keenan, who describes herself as an animal lover, was with her 15-year-old daughter, a friend and the friend’s daughter, when they saw the animals being hit, she said.

Keenan called PETA and the Novi Police Department. Police said Sunday they investigated Keenan’s call, but did not have a report filed.

Scramlin said fair officials take the health and safety of the animals very seriously and did not take Keenan’s report lightly.

The whip, which Keenan described as an arm’s-length rod with material on the end, is what the exhibitionists use to “tap and guide the pig,” Scramlin said.

“This is simply the way these animals are shown where to go,” she said.

The accused handlers were “flabbergasted,” Scramlin said.

“These animals are taken care of very, very well,” she said. “They are the pride of these people.”

Keenan said she asked one of the handlers why he was hitting the pigs, and he did not respond.

Scramlin said marks on the pigs’ flesh likely came from fighting, as pigs have sharp teeth and bite eat other when in close quarters. The whips are used lightly, she said, and the handlers wouldn’t put enough force behind them to break the skin or leave abrasions.

Keenan said fair representatives called her back and told her they looked into her report. She said there’s no way she could have mistaken what she saw Thursday.

Those around her seemed surprised by the handling, she said.

“It was violent,” Keenan said.

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Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau