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They were sound asleep. Danny and Cindi Henshaw were awakened by a banging on the door at 5 a.m. on Sept. 12. It was the game warden. Danny was arrested for “operating a mammalian hunting enclosure without a permit” and hauled off to be booked.
For 16 years, Danny and Cindi have operated the 152-acre Willis River Hunting Preserve near Gladstone, Va. It is a private, completely fenced, wild-boar hunting club. Danny has been among the nation’s top 10 archers. He has been featured as a hunter on the “Wild and True” television program. His hunting preserve has hosted hunters from the Pentagon and Quantico, and executives from all over. When he opened the place 16 years ago, he went to the authorities to make sure he was in compliance with all the laws, and his operation was approved. Everything was great, as far as Danny knew, until Sept. 12. As the game warden drove Danny away, the radio spat: “OK, we can go in now, he’s off the property.”
Simultaneously, Cindi saw nine vehicles, lights flashing, descend on her property. Armed personnel, some taking guard positions and others mounting four-wheel ATVs, spread out across the preserve. Shots rang out. Bullets flew. And pigs fell dead. So far, 270 shell casings have been found.
Cindi was told that the state vet was at a command post nearby, that he would be there at 7 a.m. to test the first 10 pigs killed. The killing continued. Danny was booked and released. He returned home to watch – and hear – government officials slaughtering his pigs. All day, all night, gunshots rang out. Cindy had two 500-pound hogs she had bottle-fed and raised as pets in another pen on adjacent, separately deeded property. They were shot dead and dragged away. Day after day, the killing continued, and all the while, Danny and Cindy were under armed guard. The investigation and the killing are continuing. They were told that an agent had hunted on the preserve in May and had killed a pig that tested “probable” for pseudorabies. The same agent returned again Sept. 9 and killed a pig that had tested positive.
Why was a 5 a.m. raid necessary? If pseudorabies was suspected, why were the owners not simply notified and a remedy worked out with the owner?
According to Elaine Lidholm, spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, “there was reason to be concerned about the officers’ safety.” She would not specify what the reason might be, even when pressed. The investigation is ongoing and is likely to wind up in court, so she said she could not be more specific.
Also in dispute is the legality of the Henshaw hunting preserve. Enclosed hunting preserves were outlawed by the Virginia Legislature in 2001, with the exception of three facilities that were “grandfathered” by the legislation. Lidholm would neither confirm nor deny that the Henshaw facility was one of those grandfathered, nor would she identify any of the facilities that were grandfathered. She simply said that there were no legal enclosed preserves operating in Virginia now. Were the Henshaws ever notified that their operation was illegal? “I don’t know,” was Lidholm’s reply. “They should have known,” she said.
Pseudorabies is a viral disease that affects swine primarily, but can infect other animal species. It is not communicable to humans. The disease is fatal for piglets. Adult animals survive, but are carriers for life. A national eradication program has been under way since 1989.
The armed personnel, and the other agents from the USDA and the Virginia Department of Agriculture left the Henshaw property Sept. 22 after Danny agreed to find and kill the remaining piglets the “official” hunters were unable to kill.
When the government de-populates (kills) an animal herd to protect public health, it is supposed to pay “just compensation.” In Danny’s case, however, no compensation is available. In fact, he has been notified that the entire cost of the de-population operation will be charged to him. This difference hinges on the issue of whether Danny’s operation was legal, as he contends, or illegal, as the state contends. In any event, Danny’s hogs are dead, and he is out of business. Regardless of what the courts eventually decide, Danny and Cindi will never recover from this experience.
Agents of government who exercise power beyond that specified by law and required by the situation, must be held accountable – individually. If the Henshaws’ reserve fell out of compliance because of changes in the law or regulation, does the state not have a moral, if not legal, obligation to provide an opportunity for them to get back into compliance, or should the state descend like vultures to put them out of business because someone in the agency doesn’t like enclosed hunting preserves? Was the “illegal” designation simply contrived to avoid the “just compensation” provision of the law? These are questions that a jury should explore and answer definitively.
The state must be held accountable and fully justify its action in this case. If the Henshaws’ civil and property rights were violated, both the state, and the individual perpetrators must pay. It is sad that the questions were not answered before the slaughter occurred.
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