CHARLES CITY COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — A parent says she saw no signs of abuse or neglect at a children’s farm where animals were recently seized. 8News exposed that the Charles City County Sheriff’s Office removed and impounded more than two dozen animals after allegations of animal cruelty at the Independence “FUN”ie Farm, run by Resi Connell.
The farm offers a farming high school called L.O.C.A.L Stew U, as well as camps for kids.
“They show these animals in the state fair. Neglected and abused animals do not win ribbons in the state fair,” says Ashley Meads. Her 16-year old son Judson has been attending the farming high school for the past two years.
“There’s been nothing but love and care for the animals since day one,” says Meads.
Meads tells us she was devastated to learn horses, ponies, sheep, a donkey and more than 20 goats were seized from Connell’s farm following an anonymous tip alleging abuse and neglect. She says the farming high school it’s been a fabulous hands-on experience for her son.
She tells 8News he learns to care for the animals, practice farm fishing and study aquaponics. “They do a lot of science, water testing, farm run-off. He’s learned a lot of very valuable mechanic skills. He’s learned to work on and repair tractors and lawnmowers and chain saws,” says Meads.
Yet, sources tell 8News the animals have escaped more than a dozen times and appear to be looking for food. Photos shared with 8News show some very thin horses. We asked Meads about that and she said that didn’t surprise her. “Because there were several bad batches of hay we got over the winter,” she explained.
Another woman who emailed 8News and has known Connell for decades writes,”Resi is not now and never has been an animal abuser.” She also tells us that donkey that was seized had cancer. She writes, “She cured the cancer using holistic methods of treatment.”
Meads backs up that statement and adds, “There have been illnesses, there are sick animals, there are old animals and she has always been transparent and upfront with us in explaining the problems and reasons why.”
8News also uncovered, Connell has been charged with animal cruelty before in Orange County. The charges were later dismissed. We asked Meads if that concerned her.
“Not at all, because I know that story and I know what happened and again she’s always been transparent. We need to keep an open mind until this is fully investigated,” says Meads.
Both Meads and the woman who wrote us say they feel this all might be fueled by some neighbors who don’t like that there’s a school on the property.
In the meantime, the animals are in the care of a veterinarian. Connell is due back in court in July.