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Animal activist who served on Colo. vet board is charged with animal cruelty

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An animal-rights activist — who resigned from Colorado’s Board of Veterinary Medicine after calling farmers and ranchers “lazy and nasty” — has been charged with 13 counts of animal cruelty. The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office has said that the misdemeanor counts against Ellen Kessler involve birds that were found in her home, of which two have died.

Television images shown by CBS Denver, which was the first to report the news, showed bird cages being kept in squalor inside of Kessler’s home. The station said that the animals rescued from the activist’s residence were being housed in “terrible conditions.”

According to The Gazette, authorities were notified of the living conditions in early March, less than a month after Kessler left her board position in the wake of an inflammatory remarks against Colorado ranchers on a Facebook post started by Marlon Reis, the spouse of Gov. Jared Polis, who appointed Kessler to the board in the first place.

Reis, also an anti-animal agriculture activist, and Kessler are longtime friends.

“There were 13 birds total, most of them living in the basement with food and water, but no sunlight. The cages and floors were covered in seed, dirt and feces,” The Gazette reported according to Jefferson County Public Information Officer Karlyn Tilley. “There was an overwhelming smell of urine. Many mice were found, both alive and dead, as well as flies throughout the house.”

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Image courtesy of Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office

The Colorado Board of Veterinary Medicine, which licenses veterinarians in the state and disciplines violators, is tasked with helping to safeguard animal health, which comes in stark contradiction to the accusations that have been levied against Kessler. In addition to being a longtime friend of the governor’s spouse, Kessler with her activist credentials immediately raised a red flag in the state that has a historic and lucrative relationship with the beef industry. The appointment in 2020 was often seen as part of a larger anti-meat effort by the state’s executive branch, which included the much-maligned MeatOut Day initiative, and was described as underscoring “how out of touch our Boulderite governor is with rural Colorado and the agricultural economy that sustains it.”

Kessler, one of two “public” members of the board which is otherwise made of up licensed veterinarians, was supposed to have served her term until 2024. But her actions this year, even prior to the court charges, put a swift end to that run. 

Kessler’s major slide began in January, when in a Facebook post she accused Colorado ranchers of using their cattle as “bait” for wolves in order to receive government compensation. 

“These techniques could easily translate into activism in Colorado for soon-to-be-introduced wolves and other predators already living among us,” Kessler wrote in the post according to an article by the Colorado-based editor of Food Safety News. “Would our lazy and nasty ranchers/cattlemen even raise a finger to make something like this work, or is using a cow to bait the wolves their solution? A living cow doesn’t make money for them. Only a dead cow does. If the slaughterhouse doesn’t pay them for the carcass, they’ll blame the predators, so the state will pay them for livestock lost from predators. What a racket. What a scam.”

In various posts, Kessler has also strongly criticized National 4-H Council programs and has tried to claim that diary farmers sexually abuse their cows. She has since deleted some of her most aggressive and antagonistic comments from social media.

Animal cruelty is a Class 1 misdemeanor in Colorado and carries a fine of up to $5,000 per charge, with a mandatory minimum fine of $500. Reports also noted that the charges could carry up to 18 months of jail time.

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