HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — An investigation is underway in Hanover County after more than 100 animals were found on a property in Mechanicsville, many of them deceased.
On Tuesday, Aug. 9, Animal Control officers executed a search warrant for alleged cruelty to agricultural animals in the 6600 block of Mattawan Trail.
With the assistance of the Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, Caroline County Animal Control, Dinwiddie County Animal Control, Sussex County Animal Control, Old Dominion Veterinary Services and volunteers, 10 pigs, seven goats, four sheep, two horses, one mule pony, two cows and 59 chickens were removed from the property, according to a release.
“My husband and I were actually taking a walk, and when we got up to the property, we noticed all the Animal Control vehicles,” nearby resident Janice Zeigler said. “I did not see them take the horses or the mule or the animals away. There were still a few animals there when we walked by.”
According to a release, Hanover County Animal Control also discovered roughly 23 dead livestock animals, as well as numerous dead chickens on the property.
A spokesperson with the locality said that all rescued animals are in the custody of Hanover County Animal Control and are being housed at various facilities to get proper attention and veterinary care.
That was a relief to Zeigler, who said that, on multiple occasions, she called Animal Control because she noticed the animals on the property were without adequate food, water and shelter.
“It’s been a very long time coming. The neighbors and I have called and called and called,” she told 8News. “We just never saw any improvement. In fact, it just got worse and worse. At a time, he had at least a dozen cows. There were baby cows being born in the field. He had families of pigs that had absolutely no shelter in the hundred-degree days, [or] even when there was snow on the ground.”
Zeigler said that animals from the property would often wander to her residence. She recalled keeping one large pig and six piglets in her backyard before Animal Control responded to help return the animals to the property. When 8News spoke with Zeigler, there was also a cat, which she said had come from her neighbor’s property, and would return to Zeigler’s residence for food.
“When he first moved in, we noticed that he was not taking care of his chickens at the time. That was his first animal here,” Zeigler said. “I called Animal Control, I went and gave them food and water, I was told not to trespass on the property, so I really haven’t, except to feed the horses and donkey and goats from the street.”
According to a release, Hanover County Animal Control is leading the investigation, and charges are pending. Evidence collected will be sent to a state lab to determine cause of death. Hanover County Animal Control will continue to work with the Hanover County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office during this investigation, a spokesperson said.
But after the animals were taken into the custody of the county, many neighbors were left wondering why this didn’t happen sooner. Anecdotally, local residents told 8News on Thursday that they had called Animal Control several times in recent years. A spokesperson for the county also confirmed that Animal Control had received 160 calls for service to the property on Mattawan Trail since 2019.
There were a large number of calls for service, investigations and welfare checks. Hanover County Animal Control has confirmed that many were unfounded or did not rise to the level of county action by the laws of Virginia. Initially, there were instances where Hanover Animal Control used the opportunity during these calls for education and guidance for the animal owner, as is a best practice. As the situation progressed, county animal control took action and some of these instances are now working through the courts. Tuesday, Animal control through investigations and observation was able to obtain a search warrant which allowed them access to the property and seize the affected animals.Hanover County spokesperson, Aug. 10
“I called one time about the pigs not having shelter, and I was told that most of the laws in Virginia do not apply to agriculture animals,” Zeigler said. “They only have to be fed and watered once a day, and I could not prove that he was not doing that.”
While charges are pending, a suspect has not been officially named in this matter. However, 8News investigated the individual authorities believe is responsible, and found that he has several prior charges related to animal care and cruelty in other localities. Court records show that the individual was previously found guilty of allowing animals to run at large, as well as in adequate care of agricultural animals. Following a May offense, a judge ruled the individual guilty in absentia, as he did not appear in court, and banned him from owning livestock anywhere in the Commonwealth. However, the individual appealed, meaning the animals were not seized, as they normally would have been, while the appeal process plays out in the legal system.
“The neighbors have been dealing with it for this many years,” Zeigler said. “We really want to put the pressure on Hanover County and some of the other counties to do what’s finally right; to prosecute him, charge him with whatever they can, and prevent this from ever, ever happening again.”