An allegation of cruelty to a camel prompted Pikeville Medical Center to cancel its live Nativity display and resulted in a criminal charge against a handler.
The display in the parking lot of the hospital’s pain management center was supposed to run through Friday, but the hospital canceled it Tuesday evening after a woman posted a video on Facebook showing a man shoving a camel, apparently to get it to lie down, then punching the animal in the head.
“Those poor camels have been smacked, kicked, choked by being pulled to the ground every time they try and stand up,” Tiffany Sparks said in a message with the video she posted. “My kids and I are absolutely heartbroken seeing them treat the camels this way.”
The video had been viewed more than 127,000 times by Wednesday afternoon.
The hospital said in a statement that officials told the company hired to provide animals for the Nativity display that it would not tolerate mistreatment of animals.
The hospital canceled the display to ensure the safety of the animals and of hospital employees who volunteered to portray characters in the presentation, according to a statement.
“None of us here are experts in the care and handling of large animals, but we do know that we want them to be treated humanely and want the live Nativity to be a positive spiritual experience for everyone,” the hospital, which describes itself as a Christian institution, said in a post on Facebook.
Hospital spokeswoman Laura Damron said the display won’t reopen this year.
Hospital officials notified police after learning of the video.
The Pikeville Police Department said in a statement that it was made aware of the video late Tuesday afternoon and began investigating.
Police identified the person who allegedly struck the camel as Joseph P. Price of Jackson, Mo., an employee of 5H Ranch.
Sgt. Michael Riddle cited Price on a charge of second-degree animal cruelty, according to a news release.
Riddle issued a citation rather than arresting Price, because the charge is a misdemeanor and the officer hadn’t witnessed the alleged illegal conduct, police spokesman Paul Maynard said.
The hospital said 5H Ranch owner Maxine Hale fired Price after hospital president and CEO Walter May and chief operating officer Juanita Deskins expressed concern to her about the incident.
Hale was not available for comment Wednesday, and the company’s Facebook page had been taken down.
“It is my understanding when she was made aware of the situation, she was devastated,” Damron said of Hale.
Damron said the hospital had hired 5H to provide animals for the Nativity display for more than 20 years and had never had reason to question the care it provided for the animals.
A 2005 story in the Southeast Missourian newspaper said Maxine Hale and her husband, Dave Hale, started out in the early 1960s breeding quarter horses switched to camels in 1965.
The ranch provided camels for parades, private events, movies and commercials, the story said.
Maxine Hale told another Missouri newspaper in September that 5H Ranch would provide camels for Nativity scenes at churches in six states this year.
“Christmas is our busiest time of year,” Hale told the Rolla Daily News. “We’ve been going to some of those churches for 40 years. The people look forward to us coming. It’s tradition.”