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East Otto farmer is targeted over cycle of animal cruelty

Animal rescue authorities want to stop a bad cycle, like they say has been occurring for years with 60-year-old Jay D. Williams on his 121-acre East Otto farm -- where they say starving, malnourished animals live and are eventually butchered in a slaughterhouse on the property.

The SPCA in Cattaraugus County says it's appalling that people like Williams and others accused of animal cruelty for allegedly starving their animals can continue to get away with it, even after they've been charged in previous cases and served jail time -- only to get out and start over again.

"It's frustrating that someone can starve an animal and it's a misdemeanor, and then if they do physical abuse to a dog or cat, that's a felony," said Kelly Chaffee, SPCA president, who spearheaded a raid last week that removed more than 70 farm animals, many of them sheep, lambs and chickens, from Williams' East Flats Road farm.

Many of them were taken by an animal advocacy/rescue group, Farm Sanctuary, to its Watkins Glen site to nurse them back to health. A handful of others, primarily horses, are with the SPCA.

Williams, previously convicted of animal cruelty and having served jail time for the offense, has been a familiar name in Cattaraugus County SPCA circles since 1992, when the agency first began receiving complaints.

He's also known to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has visited his farm and was present for the raid but is not talking publicly about the situation. In the latest incident, Williams faces two misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty under the State Agriculture & Markets Law, with more charges pending.

In last week's raid, lambs were described as looking bloated like "little basketballs" from trying to drink water to compensate for a lack of food; while a starving goat could only stand for about 30 seconds because it was so weak, authorities said.

Chaffee and others want to see recently proposed legislation by State Sen. Mark Grisanti, R-Buffalo, to create a statewide animal abuse central registry for anyone over 18 who is convicted in a case of animal abuse get approval and be signed into law.

If that happens, it would require abusers to register annually and would prohibit them from owning, adopting, buying or having control over an animal as long as they are required to register.

Any animal abuser who knowingly failed to register or provided false information would be charged with a felony, punishable by up to four years in prison or a fine up to $5,000, or both. Shelters and pet stores would be required to check the registry before selling or adopting out an animal.

"It would be a low-grade felony, but it's pretty serious," Grisanti said in an interview Sunday. "It gives it some teeth."

His proposed changes are similar to other ones before the State Legislature that may be melded together before they are voted on this session, and if approved and signed into law, could take effect later this year.

"To me, animal abusers are heinous people who are hurting innocent animals," said Grisanti, who owns two dogs. "This registry would ensure they would be unable to own more possible victims in their future."

Williams' history of alleged neglect of farm animals is a long one. In 2000, the SPCA removed more than 100 animals, including goats, pigs, sheep and chickens, from his farm. An additional 100 animals were found dead.

At the time, Williams was charged with 100 counts of animal cruelty, which Chaffee said were later reduced to five counts, and he pleaded to one. The rescue and care effort cost around $10,000, she said.

The complaints have not stopped, and authorities say New York's laws are simply not tough enough. In 2006, an almost identical situation evolved again with Williams, this time including birds and rabbits, plus farm animals, the SPCA said.

Williams was charged with animal cruelty, though authorities said they suspected he likely loaded up the animals before they could rescue them and sold them at an auction. Williams was charged again, and in 2010, ended up serving 180 days in the county jail for the 2006 conviction.

Last summer, complaints started again. Then late last month, three horses were found dead at Williams' farm, leading authorities and a Springville veterinarian to check his latest animals before returning to conduct the raid last week.

Williams defended his farm in an interview with The Buffalo News, describing his regular routine for years of buying farm animals cheaply at area auctions -- many of which he said are thin and sickly -- and then bringing them to "feed out" before customers buy them to slaughter at his facility.

He said his operation helps him pay his $10,000 in yearly taxes on the farm and gives him some spending money. He was disappointed that a bull was seized that was to have been butchered today and would have yielded him $1,500. He insists he does not do the butchering himself, but that his customers do -- and that they use the meat for personal use because it is not USDA-stamped.

"They're telling me I should stamp the meat for sale. I don't feel I have to stamp it because I'm not doing the slaughtering," Williams said, insisting his customers do the actual butchering after they pick out the best animals at his farm.

Williams is upset that the USDA, he said, told him he would have to make many improvements to make his operation legal.

"It could cost me $4,000 to $10,000," he said.