ST. LOUIS — After federal agents closed down C.C. Baird’s animal-dealing business in 2003 and filed charges accusing him and his family of abusing hundreds of animals, research laboratories and universities across the nation stopped buying dogs and cats from him.
Except for MU, which continued buying dogs from Baird’s farm in Williford, Ark., until last December, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
The university continued working with Baird despite a 108-page federal complaint that accused Baird and his family of treating “hundreds of animals cruelly and inhumanely in myriad ways.”
A month after MU stopped buying dogs from Baird, he and his wife paid a $262,700 fine — the largest fine ever under the Animal Welfare Act — and surrendered their animal licenses. As part of the deal, the Bairds neither admitted nor denied any wrongdoing.
MU spokesman Christian Basi said the school was waiting for a final finding by the government before deciding whether to stop dealing with Baird.
“We want to make sure due process is given its full cycle,” Basi explained.
But seven colleges and universities recently contacted by the Post-Dispatch said they stopped using Baird in 2003 because of concerns about the federal complaint and the condition of animals they bought from him.
Baird started as an animal dealer in 1989, when he fixed up an old kennel on his farm in the Ozarks near the Missouri border. More than 10,000 animals went through his farm from just 1999 to 2002, according to filings with regulators.
Baird was a USDA-certified Class B animal dealer. As a seller to research labs, he was allowed to buy only from local pounds, shelters or licensed breeders. Or, he could buy from any person who had bred and raised the animal he wanted.
And that was where Baird focused his efforts. He visited flea markets and dog swap meets looking for animals. Some people came to his farm offering animals.
At that point, he’d acknowledged buying from 1,156 different people.
Calls were made Sunday to two numbers for C.C. Baird in the Williford area; one was unlisted and a message left at the other was not returned. Baird refused multiple requests for an interview.
For years, the Sharp County sheriff suspected that Baird was buying stolen pets. Although the county never found lost pets at the farm, Sheriff Dale Weaver said some people in the county were losing three or four dogs at once. “It’s difficult to think they all just walked off and stayed gone,” he said.
In 1995, Baird was found guilty of failing to keep adequate records and acquiring dogs from unauthorized sources. He was fined $9,250 but was allowed to continue dealing.
In 2003, a laboratory veterinarian at Mississippi State University complained to the USDA about the condition of Baird’s animals.
The school in Starkville, Miss., regularly paid Baird at least $40,000 a year for at least 16 dogs a week for 20 weeks a year. In comparison, using dogs bred and raised especially for research, called Class A animals, would have cost the school $160,000.
Baird’s dogs — mostly hounds and terriers — arrived with open wounds, malnourished and sick, said a laboratory veterinarian who no longer works at the school. She asked that her name not be used, but her account was verified by her supervisor at Mississippi State, Dr. John Harkness.
Harkness said two USDA investigators visited the animal laboratory in the summer of 2003. Nothing was heard again until the school learned of the raid on Baird’s farm on Aug. 26, 2003. Three days later, the school terminated its contract with Baird.
The school’s complaints were the only ones from a university detailed in the USDA’s 108-page filing against Baird.
MU, however, continued to work with Baird. The number of dogs purchased each year varied with research needs. In fiscal year 2003-2004, the school paid Baird $22,275 for 169 dogs; the next year, it bought just five.
Basi said school officials knew of the federal investigations of Baird in 2003 but did not receive “official word” from the government until December 2004 that provided sufficient reasons for dropping him. Basi refused to say what that message was or who gave it.
Colleen Carroll, the USDA attorney prosecuting Baird, said nothing occurred in the case that month. She said at that point she was ready to prosecute the Bairds for violating “practically every regulation that has to do with cats and dogs.”