The world of competitive livestock showing is a quiet one, perhaps, but it can be cutthroat. After nineteen-year-old Maggie Weinroth and her fourteen-year-old brother Ben were accused of cheating at the 2011 Colorado State Fair by drugging their prize winning goats, Ben was banned from competition, the two have been stripped of their titles, and both have been taken to task online and in person. But the Weinroth family is pursuing legal action to restore their reputation in the industry.
Last summer, Maggie and Ben, both of whom have many previous awards between them, spent eight hours a day raising thirteen show animals -- eleven goats and two sheep. At the state fair, Maggie's goat, Theodore, won the Grand Champion award (and sold for $5,500), while Ben's goat earned the Champion Lightweight Goat title (and sold for $1,300). But Ben's goat was randomly selected for a drug test, and it -- and, later, Theodore -- allegedly tested positive for ractopamine, a muscle relaxer against competition rules.
The Weinroths, who say they've never used ractopamine in their six-year history of showing animals, learned about the finding and resulting disqualification via letter on October 8 -- and the following month, a state fair board upheld the decision to disqualify them.
The family is still shocked by this turn of events. "Maggie has considered changing her major [animal science] at school," says the Animal Law Center's Jennifer Edwards, the family's attorney. "It was in Time magazine, and people are calling them cheaters and saying they drugged their goats. As their attorney, it's been extraordinarily emotional. At the fair board meeting, I had to try to keep myself from crying, and I did at one point."
Ben Weinroth, far left, and Maggie Weinroth, far right, pose with the goats they showed at the 2011 Colorado State Fair.
Although the family is pursuing an appeal of the state board's decision in court over the next few months, they are less concerned with the prize money than with the family's reputation and Ben's ability to compete again, says their mother, Sue Weinroth. (Because she has aged past eighteen, Maggie is no longer eligible for the same competitions.) Ultimately, however, the family is demanding a statement in their favor -- one that says there is no evidence the two administered the drug to their animals.
In the past, the Weinroths' show animals have frequently been selected for drug testing and have always tested clean. The previous year, for example, Maggie's goat tested negative for drugs at the 2010 state fair. They argue that the state fair board did not pursue the investigation as far as was necessary to prove guilt. Their theory: The goats ingested some sort of foreign feed while in the fair's custody overnight and later visited the fair vet after they exhibited signs of illness from the foreign food.
Since then, the bodies of both goats, which the Weinroths consider to be evidence, have been destroyed. This draws alarm from Edwards, who hoped to use new samples to re-open the evidence behind the allegations against the Weinroths. "The other thing that is really disturbing to me as an animal attorney is that it seems like animal experts would be more interested in finding out who gave the goats this foreign feed." she says. "There was animal cruelty involved, and yet there has been no investigation made into who gave the goats this foreign food. The goats were very sick for a long time."
So far, early negotiations with the state fair board have resulted only in an offer to reinstate Ben without providing any statement regarding the family or allowing the siblings to reclaim their titles. "That's ridiculous -- nowhere near good enough," Edwards says. The family refused this offer in favor of pursuing their options through legal channels.
In the wake of the state fair fallout, the Weinroths say they have been attacked on livestock message boards and harassed in person regarding the incident, and they hope to reverse the allegations as much as is possible.
"There were articles as far as Ireland and Pakistan," Maggie says. "One of the more personal levels, for us, is that there are blogs that talk about show livestock. We've seen people saying terrible things about us and drugging our goats for years. People at our church keep asking us what's going on."
Not all of the response has been negative, though: Family members say they have received a lot of support in Douglas County, and the man who purchased Ben's goat wrote them a letter saying he would stand by them. But their mother, Sue, worries that even if the legal system later sides with her children, the damage might be irreversible. "I believe this changes the landscape forever," Sue says. "They will always be the kids who were accused of this. I know Ben wants to go back to the state fair, but as a parent, I'm worried. I want some sort of guarantee that our animals would be safe and the judges wouldn't be biased against us."
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With help from her Animal Law Center colleagues, Edwards has gathered evidence in support of the family, including letters from veterinarians and supporters of the children. She plans to argue that the burden of proof regarding the Weinroths' guilt has not been met.
"The overall theory and the theme in the beginning of this is that there has been no due process so far," Edwards says. "The children have been presumed guilty, and they have to prove their innocence, which nobody in the United States should stand for."
More from our Colorado Crimes archives: "Debe Bell found guilty of 35 counts of animal abuse targeting rabbits."