A farm owner in Virginia has surrendered 71 horses, 28 cats and seven dogs to local authorities.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office said it executed a search warrant at the property this week. Staff were on the Orange County property from Monday morning until Wednesday evening working with veterinarians.
They evaluated every horse that was on the property and many other domesticated animals.
State law allows law enforcement officials or animal control officers to seize and impound any animal that has been abandoned, is cruelly treated, or faces an immediate threat to its life, safety or health.
Orange County Sheriff Mark Amos said that, in practice, this meant that a veterinarian had to determine that an animal was almost dead. Anything less was essentially not able to be seized, he said.
However, by working with the property owner, an agreement was reached under which she surrendered 71 horses, 28 cats and seven dogs.
Five horses were euthanized and seven horses were found dead, the sheriff’s office said.
By Tuesday night, many of the horses had been removed from the property by six different rescue organizations and others who had volunteered to help.
Veterinarians assessed all horses that were on the property on Monday and Tuesday to determine their medical condition. The sickest horses were the first removed, along with some surrendered horses.
A vet subsequently returned to the farm to conduct more medical evaluations, spending additional time with each horse to assess their body condition. Ten more of the remaining horses were determined to be in need of immediate vet care. At this point the property owner refused to surrender the horses and the sheriff’s office seized them from her.
All horses that have been surrendered or seized have been taken off the property and are in the hands of rescue organizations, Amos said.
The property owner still had 18 horses, two donkeys, one bull and several cats in her possession, he said.
Officers, he said, were continuing with their investigation, which began when complaints were received last weekend.
Orange County Commonwealth’s Attorney Diana Wheeler noted on Wednesday that the Orange County community had expressed its concern and compassion about the animals that were living on the farm.
“The Commonwealth’s Attorney shares this concern regarding all the animals – those who have left the property and those that remain on the property.
“The number of animals involved is very large. Determining the medical status of each and every animal is very time-consuming, and several veterinarians have been working tirelessly to do so.”
Wheeler said the case required careful and painstaking investigation, which was ongoing.
She said her office was working closely with the sheriff’s department, animal control officials and the other individuals involved in caring for and transporting the animals.
Wheeler, like the sheriff, noted the extent and limitations of animal seizure laws in the state.
“While it is frustrating to know that animals remain on the farm, our office is working very closely with the sheriff to ensure that the law is being followed and that all possible measures are being taken to protect those animals remaining.
“Animals continue to be removed from the farm based on medical information provided by veterinarians.
“When medical information and other reports have been completed and reviewed, this office will be in a position to determine the proper course of action.”