A teenager recently received an apology after he and his pig became the subject of a heated discussion earlier this month at the Park County Fairgrounds in Powell.
At a prior fair board meeting, board member Christy Muecke, of Powell, had expressed concern about how the boy treated the pig he showed at the Fair market show. That pig, named Gordon, died shortly after the show where he was named grand champion for FFA and the market show.
“I am sorry for the damage that was caused to your son, that was not my intent at all,” Muecke said to the boy’s parents, Kandi and Kirk Bennett, during a Sept. 14 Fair board meeting, after multiple requests were made for her to apologize. “My only concern was for the animal and what I saw wasn’t right. I didn’t know the animal had a pre-existing condition, if I did that would have been very, very helpful.
“We were in the hot seat for a lot of things.”
She said the pig’s condition visibly worsened over the course of the showing, and it only had marks on its face. Muecke said accusations of animal abuse have been made about pig wrestling, another Fair event.
The Bennetts spoke out on their son’s behalf at the Sept. 14 fair board meeting.
“This accusation and defamation of character was hurtful,” his mother, Kandi Bennett, said. “Is this fair to take a kid’s whole project year and make a decision based on a snapshot?”
After three showings, Gordon was taken back to his pen and it was at this point the youth handler noticed he was not doing well. Kandi Bennett said they found help, but Muecke never came to the pen despite her expressed concern.
“If the accuser had seen a 17-year-old boy try to comfort his pig and have to leave the barn because Gordy couldn’t take it anymore, I think she would have some empathy for losing a pig, a kid invested time and money in, dying before his eyes,” Kandi Bennett said.
A veterinarian came to inspect the pig and gave him medication, but it was not enough. An autopsy was performed where it was determined that Gordon’s death was due to heart failure and not abuse, Kandi Bennett said. There were purple marks on his skin but they were attributed to an unknown condition.
A whip or bat is typically used during showings to help drive a pig, but physical beating is not considered acceptable and is abuse, Toni Perrine, youth swine show superintendent, said, adding it is a fair board member’s responsibility to stop if they see it occurring.
Perrine said it was apparent there was something “seriously wrong” with the pig, but it was also obvious that it was not a result of mistreatment.
“The only truth to (Muecke’s) story was the pig did indeed die,” Perrine said. “I am still in disbelief that a board member who is supposed to support this youth program is making so many damaging, false accusations and reiterated when asked again.”
But it was confirmed during the discussion no fair board member was ever informed the pig had died until long after the fact. A steer also died at the fair and was immediately disclosed to staff, Board Chairman Tiffany Brando said.
“We didn’t know timely about that pig dying,” said board member Andrea Earhart. “We need to have better communication with our superintendents, we need to have a requirement the board is notified because of liability reasons.”
There is no requirement in the fair rule book a superintendent must inform a board member about an animal death, and the family typically pays for any necropsy, but the board can request one and pay for one as well, Brando said.
Kandi Bennett said the accusations will make it hard for her son to earn scholarships and damage his reputation. She said her children have been showing at the county fair for 23 years, showing a total of 97 pigs, with only three dying.
She said no one approached her son at the fair to inquire about the pig’s health.
Kandi Bennett said light-skinned pigs like the York breed Gordon was, are not typically allowed to sunburn or receive direct sunlight because of their fragile skin, which was the case with Gordon in order to manage his skin coloration. They also have low heat tolerance.
Kandi Bennett said her son took extra precautions to treat Gordon’s skin and keep him clean and cool, especially when noticing he had diarrhea.