Official Outcry Over Tigers Comes Too
Late for Young Victim
Smith says he has saved numerous animals over the
past 20 years
Patrick Coyne, Ken Smith's attorney from Lake Saint Louis, appeared in
court Tuesday on behalf of Smith. Smith's case review was rescheduled
for Oct. 3.
Ken Smith is scheduled to appear in Warren County Circuit Court on in
early October on a single misdemeanor charge of failing to register
exotic animals. According to state law, no person may keep any of a
number of "dangerous wild" animals in any place other than a
zoo, circus or a lab for scientific, research or educational purposes;
or a veterinary hospital or animal refuge, unless such person has
registered such animals with the local law enforcement agency.
Smith said recently he and his wife, Sandra, are following the letter of
the law and taking care of some 60 tigers, bears, wolves, cougars, foxes
and other exotic animals to the best of their ability.
The Smiths own and operate Wesa-A-Geh-Ya, a non-profit facility they
said is an animal sanctuary - one that has saved a large number of
animals' lives since coming to Warren County some 20 years ago.
But some nearby residents, including Rosella Baller, don't feel safe and
have requested that federal, state or local authorities close the
facility and order the Smiths to get rid of the animals.
Ken Smith said it's the same argument he's heard for seven years -
accusations the animals are malnourished or mistreated.
Now, he said, he's tired of it.
"I could understand if I had animals escaping and running the
neighborhood, something would need to be done," Smith said.
Smith said he's never had an animal escape, "not once in 20
And speaking of the letter of the law, he said the single misdemeanor
charge is misdirected.
"I don't own dangerous animals," Smith said. "The
sanctuary owns the animals. I can't own the animals and be a
not-for-profit (organization). (Wesa-A-Geh-Ya) is a not-for-profit
What might surprise many people is, at its roots, the problem is among
former friends. Baller once volunteered at the animal sanctuary.
"We weren't really close friends," Baller said. "We
weren't everyday close friends, (but) Ken has a nice personality."
Baller said her first impression was the animals were well-cared for,
but that impression changed over time.
"I can't stand the way they're treating the animals," she
said. "It's inhumane. I wasn't against them as people. I can't take
all the animals dying. I walked away from them."
Smith, meanwhile, contends the end of their friendship came when Baller
demanded some Sun Conure parrots in exchange for her volunteer work.
Smith said no volunteer in any field should expect something for their
time other than the enjoyment of what they're doing. It defeats the
spirit of volunteering, he said.
Despite the controversy, Smith said there is a solution where
authorities, concerned residents and the Smiths could all live in peace.
"Just leave me alone," he said. "I've done nothing wrong.
I'm not trying to hurt nothing. I'm always trying to make sure my
animals are well-taken care of."
He said that if there's nothing anyone can offer but the negative, don't
"If you can't help, don't try to destroy," Smith said.
"I'm not against anybody having an opinion, but when your opinion
starts harming me or my animals, my kids or my wife, then we've got a
Owner Guilty of Not Registering Animals
Wesa-A-Geh-Ya owner Ken Smith was found
guilty May 6 on a single misdemeanor charge of failing to register
dangerous animals with the Warren County Sheriff's Department.
Ken Smith and his wife, Sandra, said they plan to appeal.
"I think it was set in writing before we made it to trial,"
Sandra Smith said. "I think it was already judged and
denied."The violation occurred June 1 when Sheriff Kevin Harrison
and Jim Kingsley, with the Missouri Department of Conservation, visited
Wesa-A-Geh-Ya, located on Highway A in Warren County, to perform an
Harrison said Ken Smith - who has always allowed the sheriff's
department onto his property - took the two around the compound.
"I simply started a tally sheet, which I then compared to the
record book Sandra had made for me," he said.
The Smiths stated that Harrison did not have his record book on that
day, but Harrison said he had it in his car.
Harrison and Kingsley discovered a discrepancy between the number of
arctic wolves Sandra had previously registered with the department and
seven or eight wolves currently living in the compound.
"There were more wolves at the facility that were not
registered," Harrison said.
There also were fewer animals there of other species than what Harrison
had registered, he said.
Ken Smith contended that the missing animals were ones that had died and
been buried in the back of his property.
Sandra testified that no animals had been born or purchased for the
facility since 2004. She explained that they rescue any new animals when
they are older, so they die sooner.
Former neighbor and acquaintance of the Smiths, Rosella Baller, said the
case is more important than people realize because it now provides a
guide for future cases.
Baller - who testified against Ken - commended state Prosecutor Attorney
Kate Busch for the result.
"I'm extremely pleased because they've proven now that the place is
not a refuge, it's just a breeding facility," she said.
According to state law, no person may keep any number of dangerous wild
animals in any place other than a zoo, circus or a lab for scientific,
research or educational purposes; or a veterinary hospital or animal
refuge unless such person has registered such animals with the local law
Patrick Coyne, Smith's attorney, argued that the statute does not apply
to Smith because Wes-A-Geh-Ya's not-for-profit status makes the compound
an animal sanctuary.
The Smiths testified that they started out as breeders when they first
moved to the county 20 years ago, but after several of their animals
were returned to them, they became a not-for profit in 1998.
Associate Judge Wes Dalton ruled that Wesa-A-Geh-Ya is not an animal
Sentencing is scheduled for June 3.
Dalton recommended a suspended sentence with probation for Smith,
because he was not inclined to make the charges stay on Smith's
permanent record because the Smiths do have some of their animals
"I'm certain they'll double-check their records, so we don't have
this happen again," he said.
Baller disagreed with Walton's assessment.
"I think it should be on their record permanent so they can't keep
acquiring animals with no oversight," she said.
This is the not the first case the Smiths have faced.
In 2006, the Smiths relinquished their permit from the U.S. Department
of Agriculture following a case that charged Sandra Smith with violating
the Animal Welfare Act. The Smiths settled the case out of court without
acknowledgement of guilt or wrongdoing.
August 6, 2008
I have photos of Sandra allowing me to
bottle feed and burp baby tiger's. They tried their best but now it is
best to let it go. The animal's need to be freed and Sandra and Ken
need to go on with their lives. They worked hard and tried the best
they could but it was an impossibility. I once had a horse that passed
away, Ken came over after working 8 hrs. he hoisted the horse up and
took it to his home to feed the tigers (all on his own time).
17, 2008 7:45 PM:
" If the county worked to help them
instead of hurting them Warren Co would have a great tourists
attraction that would boost the economy and we all know we could use a
17, 2008 7:43 PM:
" People need to stop putting down
and discouraging things they do not understand and do not see.
Wesa-a-geh-ya has saved many animals and you can blatantly tell that
the animals are truely happy, and well taken care of. None of them are
neglected as rumors would have it. The stories of animals with
injuries failed to state that that was how the animals arrived. Ken
and Sandi have nursed these animals back to fantastic health. "
a non a moose
17, 2008 7:39 PM:
" I have volunteered at
Wesa-a-geh-ya and I have seen alot of good improvements. "
14, 2008 5:11 AM:
" I don't know much about tigers and stuff but I like the fact
that these people are trying their best to do something good. "
Just a guy
14, 2008 5:10 AM:
" Why is it 90% of the complaints come from one source? Why did
the comlaints not start until someone didnt get what they wanted?
Becky of Becky's Carpet and Tile supported them years ago but withdrew
her support due to negative propoganda to preserve her own image. If
people would stand up and help these people, Wesa-a-geh-ya could be a
valuable asset to Warren County. "
14, 2008 5:05 AM:
" I love the fact that they are trying to help these animals. The
Dept. of Conservation said today that these animals would be killed if
they were turned over to the state. Please Help Ken and Sandi Smith
instead of hurting them. These animals are like children to them.
14, 2008 5:03 AM:
" Wesa-a-geh-ya is a 501c3 non profit organization in good
standing with the State of Missouri. I have copies of these documents.
They have a monthly donation of $25 from a very loyal person in the
community. I have copies of these records at my disposal. These
animals are being fed soley through donations of meat from surrounding
farms and businesses. I am a witness to this fact as I personally
drove Mr. Smith to pick up meat for his animals. I volunteer my time
on a regular basis to assist them. I have fed the animals myself.
They voluntarily surrendered their USDA license because of all the
harrassment. The USDA license was only in place so that they could
legally display to the public. I have done research to check into the
complaints from PETA and the USDA. The complaints on file from PETA
are seriously errant in content. The USDA filings say ABSOLUTEY
nothing about the animals themselves. All complaints address fencing,
shelter, and maintenance of the facility. All of hich have been
addressed and have been corrected. All of the animals are in good
health. Whne one of you asked how do they do it? They work their
fingers to the bone. I personally assisted Mr. Smith until 2am.
providing food for these animals. Instead of slamming these people or
condemning them. Why not help them? Help out instead of hurting.
5, 2007 10:45 AM:
" I have had first hand experience with the Smith's and their
animals. Kathryn, Kay and the anonymous writers are absolutely
correct. You need to ask youself with so many eye witnesses,signed
affidavits, testimonies and proof, why have the Smith's continued to
operate? They also had forfeited their USDA Exhibitors License. Where
is the money coming from? Donations with out seeing the animals? With
reference to their non-profit status, you better check with the proper
governing bodies that grant the status. The last time I checked they
lost their status. To the best of my knowledge it was a temporary
status and as long as they complied with the request of submitting the
proper documents within a certian time frame they would have most
likely have kept the 501 C-3 status. To the best of my knowledge they
failed to provide the requested information. Also if they are
non-profit ask them for their accounting ledgers/books. Check to see
where the money is going. Personally I would think a news paper would
want to explore the statements the Smith's make prior to print just to
confirm what statements are true and/or false. In my opinion the
Smith's will tell you what ever you want to hear. They can be
26, 2007 3:54 PM:
" Where is this family getting all their money from to take care
of these animals properly. I been there and was overwhelmed at how two
people could do so much and the vertrainary costs must be extremly
high. I've volunteered at other shelters with less domistic animals
and you needed a staff of several to maintain there well being. How do
the Smith's do it? "
26, 2007 5:18 PM:
" I am disappointed in this article. Based on personal knowledge
I know the facts could not have been verified. Yes, Mrs. Baller was a
friend of the Smith's years ago when she first met them & before
she realized that their (as in both Ken & Sandra's) personal charm
was hiding their true level of care they were providing for the
animals, she no longer is a friend. Rosella Baller was never a
volunteer at the Wesa-Geh-Ya Sanctuary. In the beginning Mrs. Baller
tried to maintain a friendship with the Smith's in hopes of
improvements and that she could help with the surplus of animals they
were incapable of caring for. Rosella rescued many animals from the
Smith's during this friendship still hoping the Smith's intentions
really were to be a sanctuary, not a prison. When Rosella realized
that the Smith's had no intention of changing the way things were
done,she joined the efforts of the USDA, Peta, past volunteers, and
other concerned citizens in the fight to make sure the Smith's
provided adequate care for the animals as well as adequate protection,
from the animals, for the local community. For unknown reasons local
law enforcement and the local Humane Society Representative have been
blind to the problems at the Wesa-Geh-Ya Sanctuary, despite
eye-witness statements from former volunteers, veterinarians, and
members of the USDA. The article in the Journal portrays this as a
vendetta by Mrs. Baller when she is just the 'squeaky wheel'. "
25, 2007 10:45 AM:
" I visited the sanctuary during a public open house and followed
the disentegration of any credibility the Smith's have with their
"non-profit" operation. I visited with Ken Smith at that
time and attempted to share some ideas I had picked up at a recent
visit to a wonderful sanctuary in Florida www.bigcatrescue.com The
contrast between the two "sanctuaries" was startling. At
Wesa-Ya-Gee Ya I saw overcrowed animals with inadaquate shelter and no
enrichment in their enviornments. I saw no barriers to keep visitors
away from the primary enclosures. And I found Ken TOTALLY defensive
and resistant to any positive suggestions. Instead of educating the
public about how wild animals end up "needing rescue" - he
adamently defended practices such as the exotic pet trade, etc. The
numerous Board members and volunteers they had at the Open House have
since abandoned them in protest (not just one disguntled neighbor as
your article implies). They've been caught participating in the
blackmarket for exotic animals, etc. Shame on you for helping them
perpetuate their shady, sub-standard operation. "
Below is a set of responses to the
above comments from two separate individuals. Both the people below
asked to have their name withheld because of past threats from Mr.
Smith regarding their vocal stance on his operation.
One Who Knows the Truth on May 28,
2008 7:52 PM
The Smiths gave up the USDA license the
same day 12/17/03 that PETA filed a complaint with the MO Attorney
General. The USDA charged them with 35 violations including lack
of vet care on two young animals that died. The
USDA then permanently revoked the license in 2006 and fined them.
Here are my responses to the previous
To B. Hop - The injured
animals found by the USDA did not arrive in that condition. They
were picked up in July 2002 and the injuries were found by the USDA
during an inspection 10/7/02. Hopefully they had not been
suffering for over three months.
To Just a Guy -The lion
cub Max was used for this commercial. He was later found in a
6x10 cage with the cougar Hailey by the MO Conservation. Both
animals were taken to a safe place by volunteers. A sanctuary
would not exploit animals. It wasn't that someone didn't get
what they wanted, it was the list of animals that died under their
care that caused the problem. A complaint was signed by 26
residents to stop the dead animals lying in the driveway and
on the property. The Dept of Agriculture stepped in and now they
are not allowed to butcher animals on the property.
To Carol C - The USDA
PERMANENTLY REVOKED the Smiths license which means they cannot be open
to the public. Warren Co. would require the Smiths to obtain a
Conditional Use Permit to operate again.
The lady donating $25/month thinks two
lion cubs, Bonnie & Clyde are still there. When she
attempted to visit she was told not to come out. She raised many
of the tiger, lion, wolf and cougar cubs for the Smiths which were
bred intentionally and fostered out illegally.
To C. Andrews - The
perimeter fence still does not meet the USDA standards and having
animals with no shelter is cruelty. This can be seen from the
road and has been reported by people taking tours. The Smiths
had many volunteers who left due to the over breeding and lack of
proper food. A college student from the University of MO claimed
she volunteered from 2/05 - 5/06 and cared for over 100 exotic
animals. Her resume is on the internet. Where are all
To Kathryn - there are
probably no vet costs involved since that was one of the repeat
violations found by the USDA. Three reputable vets quit the
facility and reported the owners to the USDA which helped in getting
the necessary inspections. The Smiths were charged by the USDA
for not having sufficient help to care for the animals.
To A. Bickford - The
MDC did not say this as homes can be provided for many of the
animals. The Smiths requested help in placing them but then
would not release the animals.
To Taylor - They
continue to operate because no agency wants to rescue the animals or
be responsible for euthanizing them. At the rate they are dying,
disappearing, the problem may resolve itself if they just stop
breeding. Three tiger cubs were reported at a July 4th party in
2007. What happened to them?
Anonymous on May 30, 2008 4:37 PM
How in the world can tigers and lions in 6x10 cages suffering from
boredom and the torture of no shade to give them relief from the
scorching sun and heat day after day, week after week month after month
year after year be a tourist attraction? To me that simply says SHAME ON
WARREN COUNTY FOR ALLOWING IT and SHAME ON ANYONE WO THINKS THAT CAN BE
A TOURIST ATTRACTION. I was completely appalled when Ken Smith
told me, “…tigers’ brains are about the size of my fist and it
tells them only three things, to eat, sleep and shit. They don’t need
no bigger cages cause they don’t know enough to be bored….”
The regarding the water issue Ken’s comment was, “…cats only need
enough water for their bodies to absorb if they are pissing all over
then you are giving them too much water…”
with those ‘insights’ & beliefs of Ken Smith in mind put
yourself in the shoes, or should I say paws of the animals in his
care!!! Now couple that with the repeated numerous violations the
USDA sited them for which were repeatedly no shade and no water.
Tell me how would you like to be one of Ken’s animals? Can you
really say you’d want tourist to judge Warren County by the
sub-standards they’d see at that ‘tourist attraction’? Get
real. See the whole picture, and quit being bamboozled by breeder
passing himself off as a sanctuary.
B. Hop: How can an animal that is designed to roam 400 square miles
and hunt for a living be ‘happy’ in a cage barely big enough to turn
around in and thirsty all the time and never having relief from the
scorching sun. I wonder how many have bladder infections from lack
of water? Tell ya what, why don’t you go live in one of those
cages and live on as little water, no shade, no exercise as those cats
to and then tell me are they happy or just voiceless because people like
you would rather please Ken then to open your eyes and see the real
truth of the suffering those animals are going through?
Tim: I respect your kindness and willingness to look for the
good…. BUT IF Ken was in this to save the cats why would he keep
breeding them when he can’t care for the ones he already has?
The births, the MANY births, there has been completely documented.
Where the cats went, however, is NOT documented. IF, which I
doubt, they died and are buried there then have Ken produce the grave
sites and let it be proven. That will never happen because the
animals are not there, they went into the freezer. Remember the
article quoting an interview with a respected reporter where Sandra told
the reporter that Raja had died and was buried and when the reporter
with inside info called her on it and ‘reminded’ Sandra that Raja
was in the freezer Sandra’s response was, “Who told you that only a
few of us know about that?” Why was Raja in the freezer instead
of being buried? You do NOT have to be a rocket scientist to know
the answer to that. Ken will quickly tell you that sometimes it is
necessary to ‘sacrifice’ one of his animals to provide for the rest.
I do not think that comment refers to burying a cat that died, the
context it was said in refers to killing on animal and selling its parts
for a lot of money. Ken will quickly tell you how much he can get
for body parts of dead exotics. He will even proudly tell you how
much a bear’s bladder is worth. He will even proudly tell
you the easiest and best way to “do it” is to tranq the cat and then
put a bag over its head to smother it. He speaks of these things
very freely, so it is something he is quite bold about and does not feel
is wrong. Is it fair to solicit donations from a well meaning
public and then keep breeding, selling, butchering etc while providing
less than sub-standard care for the animals there?
Many of them could be placed with REAL sanctuaries! It would take
large coordination efforts but it could be done.
They surrendered it because they knew they couldn’t win keeping it.
You need to see it for what it is. Shelter or should I say the
lack there of does refer directly to the well being of the animals, HOW
can you not grasp that? If they weren’t continually breeding and
actually provided and SHOWED they were properly watering and housing the
animals people would be more willing to help. However, they are in a rut
of whining and singing woe is me tunes and yet they keep right on
breeding making the problem worse. In case you didn’t know
it getting a 501c3 is nothing, just about anyone can do it and no one
ever bothers to check p on that. Do you also have documents about
the under the table unreported funds the Smiths get? One donor
giving $25/month isn’t anything to brag about when that donor
participated I raising the cubs, you know those that Ken denies were
born. Ken even brags that he has babies and prefers tiger babies
over lion babies because lion babies are too much trouble and tiger
babies are more fun.
BRAGS that he gets paid to let people ‘foster’ his babies! He
says he HAS to do that to feed the rest of the animals. Hmm,
let’s review this, have multiple babies to get paid for a few months
for people to illegally foster them in their homes for a few months…
NOW where did the animals go for the next 10-15 years? Hmmm
could it be possible they were farmed out as body parts for income? Since
you state you have seen documents of the Smith’s have you also seen
the resignations of more than one past board member who quit because Ken
stated and lived by he just needed names on paper to show a board but
that the board didn’t need to know anything about how he ran HIS
place?C Andrews no offense intended but don’t be so gullible! It
is obvious you care about the animals but must be very unskilled or
unknowledgeable as to what they really need. Please go visit a REAL
sanctuary and then decide if Wesa is worthy of your praise.
Anonymous: Well when I asked Ken that he said “..his wife cleans
all the time and they don’t have to worry about smelly piss stinking
like other places because he knows how much water the cats need to
absorb and doesn’t give them enough to make ‘em piss all over”
He will further tell you, “… if you feed them once a week they will
only shit ones of twice a week…” I cringe and the misery these
animals must feel day after day. Vet bills? What vet bills?
Have you not seen the affidavits from vets who quit working for the
Smiths because of the Smiths’ weird oddball cruel beliefs about the
animals not needing medical care. He told me, “… when ya have
animals sometimes they die, it is the way it is, I can’t be paying
vets all the time when all they ever want to do is take my animals away.
When one dies then I am sad for a minute but I also know it is going to
provide for the rest of my animals.” What do you think this
means… ??? Hmmm I don’t think he meant he buries animals when
they die. Do you?
Kay Kester: You Go Girl!! You said it all. My
mouth dropped when I read your post. From my couple of visits to
Wesa and long conversations with Ken I could have actually written part
of what you wrote! Ken does absolutely reject any real help for
the animals and wants only to be given money that he doesn’t have to
answer for. Ken absolutely tells you he sees nothing wrong with
selling animal parts or ‘sacrificing one to feed the rest”.
They have virtually no support because they are not worthy or good
stewards of that support. Ken can be threatening and doesn’t
hesitate to threaten your life if he thinks you might ‘hurt him’.
He brags proudly that he has a tiger that is a man eater. He brags
if someone hurts him he can stick them in that cage and in a few hours
no one would ever know what happened. After the few conversations
I had with Ken I was shocked, stunned and appalled at his view of what
animals need and don’t need and his blatant disregard for animals, the
law and his openness to pass threats. To be honest I was actually
somewhat frightened as well. I have seen and carefully combed
through the evidence against them and for the life of me I cannot
understand how they have not been shut down. SHAME SHAME SHAME ON
mentioned Big Cat Rescue. I have been there many times and you are
right they are certainly the highest standard of what a REAL sanctuary
is! I recommend EVERYONE go to the website you mentioned and see
what the standards of a REAL sanctuary are! THEN decide if Wesa is
a sanctuary or just a backyard breeder pretending to be a sanctuary.
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