Animal rights activists meet strong police presence at ranch

Watch activists protest at sheriff’s HQ, ranch

Members of the animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere protested Sunday at the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department in Modesto and at Raymar Farms north of Oakdale.
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Members of the animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere protested Sunday at the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department in Modesto and at Raymar Farms north of Oakdale.

About 120 members of an animal rights group, Direct Action Everywhere, protested Sunday afternoon at a ranch north of Oakdale where three of its members were arrested in October while trying to removed an apparently dying calf from the property.

They were met at Raymar Farms, on Dodds Road, by a Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department presence that included deputies on horseback and ATVs, as well as freshly strung barbed-wire fencing with new “no trespassing” signs posted at intervals along it.

To deter any Direct Action Everywhere, or DxE, members from entering the property to “liberate” animals, the Sheriff’s Department also had a helicopter circling, as well as helmeted deputies carrying batons and pepper-ball rifles.

The protesters drove in a caravan to the ranch from the Sheriff’s Department station in Modesto, where they also demonstrated. Without success, they used a phone and intercom outside the station to ask that a deputy come out to talk with them about alleged animal cruelty at Raymar.

At the Public Safety Center next to the station, a sign indicated the public lobby was open, but the doors were locked. Demonstrators alleged that deputies locked up to avoid facing them, but in the process also kept out a few families who came to visit inmates.

At Raymar, protesters including several children lined the shoulder of the road. From across the barbed wire, they used a bullhorn to try to engage deputies. “Our goal again,” DxE organizer Wayne Hsiung reminded those gathered, “is to try to get an investigation of the blatant animal cruelty that we can see with our own eyes right now, and we’ve reported this to the district attorney, to the sheriff.”

That visible cruelty, he said, was the penning of calves in crates too small to allow them to turn around or lie down. It shows flaws in confinement standards established by Proposition 2 in 2008 and Proposition 12, which passed in November, Hsiung said.

Sheriff’s Lt. Brandon Kiely did talk to the protesters from across Dodds, but only to say deputies were present to ensure their right to protest and see that it was done safely. Protesters complied when asked to stay back from the roadway and to stop using hand-held stop signs, which are illegal and were slowing traffic on the country road.

The protesters slowly made their way along Dodds to the ranch’s main entrance, where the Sheriff’s Department had set up its command post. Department spokesman Sgt. Tom Letras said he and the other deputies heard their concerns but, as at the Sheriff’s Department, did not engage.

At about 6 p.m., the demonstrators with the Berkeley-based group (including several who said they live in Modesto and elsewhere in Stanislaus County) were leaving leaving Raymar without having trespassed or violated any laws, Letras said. There had been concerns by the ranch and the Sheriff’s Department that some might have tried to sneak onto the land to take calves, but that would have been hard with the helicopter up and deputies along the perimeter.

Demonstrator Priya Sawhney, one of the three women arrested Oct. 21 while carrying a calf from the property, said she had hoped to convince deputies to investigate conditions at the ranch. She said she also hoped the ranch might release, “in the holiday spirit,” at least one calf to the demonstrators “We want nothing more than to give at least one animal the life they truly deserve, which is to live happy at a sanctuary.”

No one from Raymar faced the demonstrators Sunday or agreed to be interviewed for this story.

Letras said a detective has checked on the Raymar operation and found no violations of animal-cruelty laws. He said the detective spoke at length with Hsiung. The sergeant added, “We would not be the proper agency to investigate whether or not they (Raymar’s owner/operators) are in compliance with California codes in regards to running a dairy or beef farm. We are not a regulatory agency.”

Hsiung said accountability is a big part of the problem. The state departments of justice and agriculture have played “hot potato” when it comes to enforcing the standards Proposition 2 established.

Deke has been an editor and reporter with The Modesto Bee since 1995. He currently does breaking-news, education and human-interest reporting. A Beyer High grad, he studied geology and journalism at UC Davis and CSU Sacramento.