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WCCO finally breaks silence on ‘duck/dog story’ controversy

In its first comment on its “puppy meat” story, WCCO management now says that it believes the restaurant worker said “duck,” not dog.

WCCO-TV has maintained a steadfast “no comment” since pulling James Schugel’s Oct. 31 I-Team investigation alleging a New York City market sold Minnesota-bred dogs as meat. The station erased the story from its website, but has told viewers nothing about why: No retraction, correction or even “we’re still investigating.”

The blackout has extended to WCCO’s own newsroom, which has heard nothing from general manager Brien Kennedy and news director Mike Caputa. But the story has been lampooned worldwide, from the New York Post — which alleged that Schugel relied on a single market worker who didn’t know “dog” from “duck” — to Taiwanese animators.

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City Pages got the newsroom’s attention with a story whose sole source anonymously predicted, “heads will roll.” Wednesday, Caputa broke management’s silence, issuing a memo that reads mostly like a response/defense.

The memo buries the lead — the station now believes the worker did say “duck,” not “dog” — adding that Schegel will not be fired:

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There seem to be some inaccurate rumors on the subject of our dog breeder investigation. I wanted to take a moment to set the record straight.

First, no one should let unfounded rumors, anonymous sources or social media comments guide his or her actions or beliefs about WCCO-TV or any of its employees.

Much of what is being said by people that are supposedly inside are absolutely false. For instance, no one is being terminated.

So that none of you are guided by misinformation, here is what we know:

  • As we reported, Minnesota Certificate of Veternary Inspection reports show the breeder, Kathy Bauck, sold nearly 1400 dogs after her USDA license to sell was terminated in August 2010.
  • Of those nearly 1400 dogs, on 12 separate occasions, over period of approximately a year, a total of 158 dogs was shipped to the address in New York, where there are two business establishments, including a market, as we reported.
  • Bauck said she put the wrong address for this location. According to her, she listed the wrong address all 12 times she sent dogs to that location. As we reported, we contacted the owner of the pet shop that Bauck said the dogs were supposed to go to, and that owner told us he hadn’t done any business with Bauck for over a year.
  • We sent a news camera to both establishments in New York and found no evidence of dogs at either and reported that in our story.
  • When we called the market, the person we spoke to said he didn’t speak English, but then gave an interview in English. We asked him if the market sold dogs, and we believed he answered in the affirmative. We now believe that he said, “Duck.”
  • Since our report and a full two months after the last shipment of dogs, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets searched the markets for dogs and found no evidence to sustain the claim that they were being sold at that location. It is interesting to note that this same establishment was searched by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets last December, based on a similar complaint, and there was no evidence to sustain that claim.
  • Upon learning of the actions of Kathy Bauck, the USDA has permanently revoked her license to sell dogs.

In the end, we don’t yet know what truly happened to the dogs except that they were shipped to the location we reported on. These are all facts that warranted a compelling and important news story. In view of this, I suggest we ignore the rumors and innuendo and keep doing the outstanding work we are known for here at WCCO-TV.

Thanks,
Michael Caputa

The memo does not indicate when, or even whether, WCCO will issue a public correction or clarification for a “dog meat” allegation that, for now, appears completely unfounded. There are no apologies, and no acceptance of management responsibility for approving an undercooked story.

One theory for WCCO’s silence has been that it has been operating under a lawsuit threat.

I called Zenas Baer, the lawyer for Kathy Bauck, the dog seller who lost her USDA Animal Welfare Act license after an Otter Tail County jury convicted her of four counts of animal cruelty and torture. “I have not made that threat or rattled that saber,” Baer said of a lawsuit. “I have not looked at that issue, nor entered into an attorney-client relationship to enter that claim.”

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D.C. Meat Market manager Chao Fang said his business has remained on the sidelines. “Suing them? I want to do that, but I don’t know any lawyer.”

Fang called WCCO’s piece a “crazy story,” letting drop that D.C. Market had been investigated 11 months earlier on the same dog-meat allegations. As in an investigation after WCCO’s story, the New York State Department of Agriculture found nothing. Michael Moran, the department’s press officer, confirms that: “Based on a citizen allegation the store was inspected in Dec. 2010. No evidence of dog meat was found.”

Thanks to the CBS clamp-down, we don’t know if Schugel was aware of the 2010 investigation. The memo does not indicate whether he knew. According to a since-erased web version of the story (PDF) and a purported on-air transcript, viewers weren’t told. It would’ve been an important fact to know.

According to Certificates of Veterinary Inspection that Schugel relied on, Bauck and her husband Allan continued to ship dogs to the building housing the meat market from January to August 2011 — 120 Siberian huskies, beagles, golden retrievers, bichons, cocker spaniels and Labrador retrievers.

At least in this culture, eating dog is a brazen act, but it would’ve been particularly ballsy for a meat market to accept dog shipments at its own address immediately after a state investigation.

Does the clean 2010 investigation prove dog meat was never sold? No — it’s impossible to prove that negative. At least on-air, Schugel relied on a single, long-distance phone conversation to make his most sensational charge. That’s a thin reed to begin with; had viewers been aware that New York state investigators had previously turned up nothing, the reed might have snapped.

So where did the dogs go? USDA spokesman David Sacks says his agency has no information on the shipments or the recipients. According to the web version and transcript, Bauch told WCCO the dogs were shipped to the wrong address, and never used for meat.

The group that says it “gave an exclusive to WCCO” now is cagey about the meat allegation.

Deborah A. Howard, president of the Companion Animal Protection Society, whose 2008 investigation formed the basis for the Otter Tail County charges, said via email Monday, “We have uncovered where the dogs went (we suspected it was a front for a real pet shop in another location — Allan Bauck never drove the dogs to 36 East Broadway or anywhere else in NYC). I can’t discuss this right now because we have turned the information over to the New York Attorney General’s Office, which is investigating the pet shop side of this case.”

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Pressed via email to say whether CAPS evidence proved the pets ended up in pet shops, Howard twice promised to call, but did not. “We are not interested in the meat market story,” she emailed. “I’ll call you but I’m not free to discuss a current investigation and put at risk the good work of CAPS and a state agency.”

However, someone purporting to be CAPS left an extensive comment on the New York City-based Gothamist web site in early November. Since Howard refuses to talk, I can’t confirm it’s from her organization, though the authoritative tone reads like the group’s website and references the New York Attorney General’s investigation.

The commenter notes, “It still isn’t clear if Bauck was selling dogs for meat consumption. I spoke to the manager of the store when we went undercover. No one there speaks English well. It is unlikely that even if they do sell meat, they would admit this to a non-Chinese person by phone. These types of transactions are done in Chinese and in person. It is probable that they misunderstood the reporter.

“Also, it does not make financial sense. Bauck is selling each puppy for several hundred dollars. And with shipments of at least a half dozen puppies each month to Canine Culture Center, a meat market isn’t going to make much money. We still believe that one of Bauck’s co-conspirators (one of the pet shops) came up with this address as a front.”

The commenter also claims it was CAPS that discovered a meat market at the address to which Bauck allegedly shipped dogs, and takes credit for the New York Ag Department investigation, though it’s unclear if that is the 2010 or 2011 version.

In the end, though, the Gothamist commenter tacitly throws Schugel under the bus: “The focus of this story, which was hastily put together despite a long lead time, was supposed to be on the USDA Consent Decision, whereby Bauck is permanently revoked from having a federal license to breed or broker dogs.”