An animal rights campaigner holds a beagle

An animal rights campaigner holds a beagle rescued from a dog breeding facility in Dane County, Wisconsin.

(Photo: Direct Action Everywhere)

In 'Stunning' Reversal, Wisconsin Throws Out Case Against Puppy Mill Rescuers

“The state and Ridglan are acknowledging what we knew to be true: we have the right to rescue suffering animals from abuse because they are sentient beings, not things,” said one animal rights campaigner.

In what one animal rights advocate called a "stunning admission" by Wisconsin prosecutors, the state on Friday dropped its case against three activists accused of rescuing beagles from a large dog breeding facility.

The prosecution, evidently, "prefers to let the defendants walk free than allow the world to see the dire conditions of dogs at Ridglan, and the state trying to jail activists for a heroic act of compassion," said Chris Carraway, an attorney with the Animal Activist Legal Defense Project who represents one of the defendants.

Carraway's client, Paul Darwin Picklesimer, allegedly joined Eva Hamer and Wayne Hsiung in an "open rescue" operation at Ridglan Farms in Dane County, Wisconsin in 2017.

In an open rescue, activists do not hide their identities as they enter facilities including breeding, agricultural, and animal experimentation centers and document the conditions before removing some or all of the animals. The tactic is aimed at publicizing the conditions animals are forced to endure in the facilities.

In the Ridglan case, the three defendants, who are members of the international animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), found dogs who were crammed into small cages that put them at risk of foot and leg injuries; provided no access to the outdoors; forced to live in continuous 24-hour lighting; and living with "noxious air and feces building up beneath the cages."

The group wrote in a report that they "found many dogs wailing, howling, and barking, while others were lethargic and utterly passive... There were no soft beds, no toys, no access to sunlight, no human companionship."

The activists removed three beagles who appeared to be in particular distress, obtained veterinary care for them, and found homes where the dogs are still living, according to DxE. Picklesimer, Hamer, and Hsiung were arrested a year later after they shared information about the operation on social media.

They were charged with one count each of felony burglary and felony theft and faced a potential maximum sentence of 16 years in prison and a $35,000 fine before the state called for the charges to be dropped. Judge Mario White granted the dismissal at a hearing on Friday.

The prosecution said in a motion filed this week that it wanted to prevent the defendants from using a "defense of others" defense, arguing that they should not be protected from liability because they rescued "things" instead of people.

"The state and Ridglan are acknowledging what we knew to be true: we have the right to rescue suffering animals from abuse because they are sentient beings, not things," said Hsiung.

Carraway suggested the state likely wanted to avoid a trial in which the defendants would present the conditions they found during their investigation at Ridglan Farms.

"Each time an open rescue case goes to court, the public can clearly see that the real crime is animal cruelty, not animal rescue," said Carraway.

More than 100 animal rights advocates had been planning to travel from around the country to attend the trial.

"It is more important now than ever that we keep the pressure on to get justice for these animals," said DxE.

Hsiung noted that state inspectors found in 2016 that Ridglan was subjecting dogs to "improper caging conditions" and warned the facility to stop the practice to avoid harming dogs' feet and legs.

As recently as last year, federal inspectors found that the problem persisted at Ridglan.

Hsiung called for a special prosecutor to be appointed by the state to investigate Ridglan so its practices can be made public.

"This legal battle has just begun," he said.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.