Official Outcry Over Tigers Comes Too Late for Young Victim 

Wesa-A-Geh-Ya Owner Fighting Back
Smith says he has saved numerous animals over the past 20 years

Ken Smith
What's next?

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 years."

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 institution."

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 bother.

"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 problem."

Wesa-A-Geh-Ya Owner Guilty of Not Registering Animals

Wednesday, May 14, 2008 8:21 AM CDT

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 inspection.

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 enforcement agency.

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 sanctuary.

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 registered.

"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.


Tina F.  August 6, 2008 11:04 PM: 

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).

Carol C.  May 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 boost. "

B. Hop  May 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  May 17, 2008 7:39 PM:
" I have volunteered at Wesa-a-geh-ya and I have seen alot of good improvements. "

Tim  May 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  May 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. "

A. Bickford  May 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. "

C. Andrews  May 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. "

Taylor Nov 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 convincing. "

Kathryn E.  Oct 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? "

anonymous  Aug 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'. "

Kay Kester-Oliver  Aug 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 comments: 

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 these animals?
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?

End Comment


Anonymous on May 30, 2008 4:37 PM

To Carol C:  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…” 

 Now 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.

 To 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?

 To 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? 

To A Bickford: Many of them could be placed with REAL sanctuaries!  It would take large coordination efforts but it could be done. 

To C Andrews: 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. 

He 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.

 To 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?

 To 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 WARREN COUNTY!!

 You 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.

End  Comment


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