Goats have the same feelings as a dog, and are just as deserving of good care, nationally known California-based animal activist Wayne Hsiung said.
So that's why he rescued a sick baby goat from a meat farm in Pisgah Forest, he said in a Facebook video. The black and white goat kid was "scared, alone, sick and needed to be taken to the vet," Hsiung said. "So that's what we did." The goat had pneumonia and lice, he said.
But police say Hsiung, 36, stole the goat, and arrested him on June 7 when he landed at an Asheville airport, where he was scheduled to speak at VeganFest June 8-10.
Hsiung, an environmental lawyer, is co-founder and organizer of Direct Action Everywhere and a former Northwestern law professor.
Direct Action Everywhere is an animal rights network whose mission is to "empower a diverse network of individuals committed to taking nonviolent direct action to end the exploitation and killing of all animals."
The Berkeley-based organization reported that Hsiung was arrested when he touched down in Asheville, and was charged with felony breaking and entering, felony larceny and misdemeanor first-degree trespassing, according to the Transylvania County clerk of court's office. Hsiung's bail was set at $25,000.
"We are not trying to hurt businesses, especially small local farms," Hsiung told The Citizen-Times after his Tuesday court appearance.. "Part of my hope in this trial in Transylvania is to show these folks that this West Coast lawyer is not your enemy, and that we can create a humane world for all animals."
Hsiung faces a jail sentence of up to 39 months if he is convicted of the charges, the clerk's office said. He appeared in court on Tuesday for an arraignment hearing.
Hsiung said that his organization had been investigating the North Carolina meat farm for about two years, he told Fox Carolina. He said he found the sick goat kid near death, and believed it was an emergency situation.
So Hsiung took the goat from the farmto a veterinarian, and she is now in good condition, he said in a video from one of his talks at VeganFest.
The goat, named Rain, is now at an undisclosed animal sanctuary in western North Carolina, Hsiung told The Citizen-Times.
Hsiung told Fox Carolina he was justified in taking the goat under the doctrine of legal necessity, which is a principle where a normally criminal act is justified by the necessity of preserving something of value greater than what is lost.
"The law should target animal abusers, not animal rescuers," Hsiung told Fox Carolina. “I can’t believe they’ll send us to prison for helping a baby goat."
But Hsiung said any time he serves will be worth it.
"Whatever sacrifices or prison time I have to endure, at least we will get a lot of people talking about animal rights," Hsiung said in a Facebook video.
Hsiung pleaded not guilty on Tuesday and is due back in North Carolina on July 5 for a probable cause hearing, he said.
An incident report from the Transylvania County Sheriff's Office said the farmer of the Pisgah Forest meat farm called law enforcement after he found a gate on the farm open and a baby goat missing from its pen on February 10.
The farmer said in the report that the goat was barely a week old and could not care for itself.
Deputies said in the report that Hsiung's driver's license was found on the farm and that law enforcement found a Facebook Live video that allegedly showed Hsiung and two other men with the goat.
Hsiung described how he took the goat from the farm in the video, deputies said.
Transylvania County deputy Jeremy Queen said detectives had been tracking Hsiung for months, had issued warrants for his arrest and were waiting for him to return to the state.
Hsiung has rescued dogs and farm animals across the United States for more than 20 years, according to Direct Action Everywhere.
His organization has locations across the country investigating reports of animal abuse or mistreatment.
This isn't Hsiung's first run-in with felony charges. In a Facebook video, he said he was headed to Utah after North Carolina to face his seventh and eighth felony charges for similar "rescues." He said he and his team have been "punished, harassed, surveilled and threatened with decades in prison."
District Attorney Greg Newman said he had seen an increase in animal abuse cases in western North Carolina, but said actions like those Hsiung is accused of won't be tolerated.
"If there is a person or animal being abused, there are legal channels to pursue to address that," Newman said. "Stepping on someone's property to do that is not going to fly. If that person broke the law, we will have to prosecute him that way regardless of reasons."
Direct Action Everywhere spokesman Matt Johnson told The Daily Californian that the public supported Hsiung's efforts to rescue Rain during the Facebook Live video.
“Ordinary people see that you were helping a sick animal and now you’re going to be thrown in prison for that,” Johnson said. “That’s something that is positive for us from a movement-building perspective.”
“I’m proud of what we do at DxE to save animals from torture,” he said in another Facebook video from June 11.