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Ag critic, former Polis appointee Kessler charged with animal cruelty

By Marianne Goodland, The Colorado Springs Gazette

Ellen Kessler, an animal-rights act­iv­ist who was appoin­ted to the Colorado veter­in­ary board by Gov. Jared Polis but resigned this year, has been charged with 13 counts of mis­de­meanor animal cruelty.

Accord­ing to CBS Den­ver, which first repor­ted the charges Monday, March 14, Kessler had 13 birds in her Jef­fer­son County home, and Jef­fer­son County Animal Con­trol found one dead and another died shortly after at a veter­in­arian’s office.

The Jef­fer­son County Sher­iff’s Office con­firmed the charges.



Kessler’s first court date is sched­uled for May 23.

When reached, Kessler declined to com­ment.



A per­son who vis­ited Kessler’s home on March 7 called the county to report mul­tiple birds in poor liv­ing con­di­tions, and Kessler allowed animal-con­trol officers in to see the birds that day, said Jef­fer­son County Pub­lic Inform­a­tion Officer Karlyn Tilley.

“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. There was an over­whelm­ing smell of urine. Many mice were found, both alive and dead, as well as flies throughout the house. There was no indic­a­tion that any other pets/anim­als were liv­ing in the home,” Tilley wrote in an email.

An animal cage in Ellen Kessler’s Jef­fer­son County home, where 13 birds were found in poor liv­ing con­di­tions. Photo courtesy Jefferson County Sheriff’s office

The birds were removed the next day, Tilley said.

“It was determ­ined the birds should not go back to the home,” Tilley wrote, in part because the birds, includ­ing doves and cock­a­tiels, suffered from a vari­ety of health issues.

“Ms. Kessler was given resources of places that could help fund and clean her home. She was also given inform­a­tion on what would need to be done in order for her to have appro­pri­ate liv­ing con­di­tions for anim­als,” Tilley said, adding the birds were taken to Foot­hills Animal Shel­ter to be assessed for pos­sible adop­tion.

Kessler was issued a sum­mons for 13 mis­de­meanor counts of animal cruelty. Under state law, animal cruelty, a Class 1 mis­de­meanor, car­ries a max­imum fine of $5,000 per charge, with a man­dat­ory min­imum fine of $500, and could include jail time of up to 18 months.

Kessler, an animal-rights act­iv­ist, was appoin­ted to the state veter­in­ary board in June 2020. Her appoint­ment almost imme­di­ately gen­er­ated con­tro­versy because of derog­at­ory state­ments she had made, primar­ily on Face­book, about farm­ers and ranch­ers.

In one post a month after her appoint­ment, she said that “4-H clubs don’t teach chil­dren that animal lives mat­ter.” She repos­ted a story in August 2020, also on Face­book, that alleged dairy farm­ers sexu­ally abuse their cows, prob­ably refer­ring to arti­fi­cial insem­in­a­tion, a routine prac­tice for at least 60 years.

Polis received numer­ous calls for Kessler’s resig­na­tion.

On Jan. 22, she called ranch­ers “lazy” and “nasty,” respond­ing to a Face­book post by Mar­lon Reis, Polis’ hus­band who is a friend of Kessler’s.

Reis’ post was about an art­icle in the Mis­soulian on a new col­lab­or­a­tion pro­gram with ranch­ers who deal with grizzly bears. Refer­ring to recent attacks by wolves on cattle and dogs in north­ern Col­or­ado, Kessler accused ranch­ers of using their cows to “bait” wolves in order to receive com­pens­a­tion for the loss of their anim­als.

Kessler resigned from the vet board on Jan. 24. Records sug­gest she stepped down to shield Polis from blow­back after she made what ranch­ers viewed as incen­di­ary remarks about the live­stock industry.

While she apo­lo­gized to the gov­ernor, she doubled down on her com­ments about ranch­ers, first repor­ted by The Fence Post, an agri­cul­tural pub­lic­a­tion.

– This article first appeared March 16 in The Colorado Springs Gazette. Goodland can be reached at mari­anne.good­land@col­or­ado­pol­it­ics.com.


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