EAST COUNTY — For Manatee County Public Safety Director Ron Koper, the latest development in an East County animal cruelty case is welcome news.
Alan and Sheree Napier, owners of Napier’s Log Cabin Horse and Animal Rescue, were arrested and charged with 15 counts of aggravated animal cruelty April 17.
Alan Napier also faces a fraud charge.
The investigation is considered ongoing, because more charges may surface in the future, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Dave Bristow said.
The Sheriff’s Office raided the Napiers’ property Feb. 5, at which time deputies seized more than 300 dogs, cats, horses, goats and other animals. The animals have since been transferred to other rescue organizations for care and adoption.
Prior to their arrest, the Napiers posted on the website for their shelter that they would soon take in more animals, Koper said.
“This really came at a good time,” Koper said. “At least (the officers) made charges that will prevent him from going back in business right away.”
The grounds for the Napiers’ arrest came after months of undercover investigative work into tips that the rescue owners allegedly mistreated their animals. The sheriff’s office started the investigation late last year and felt confident enough in the information it had gathered to make an arrest.
Law enforcement arrested the Napiers for 15 counts of aggravated animal cruelty for their alleged treatment of nine dogs, five horses and one cat.
Veterinarian Dr. Edward Dunham, Napier’s director of veterinary medicine, also was arrested April 19 on one count of aggravated animal cruelty, according to the Sheriff’s Office website.
Dunham allegedly failed to give animals pain medication and sedatives during surgery, Koper said, and just put the animals under anesthesia. The animals could still feel pain, which officials deemed as cruel behavior.
Alan Napier’s charge came in response to officers’ undercover visit to the rescue earlier this year, during which a dog was purchased for $400, Bristow said.
The Napiers also solicited for donations to feed the animals, pay the bills and other needs.
However, the Napiers’ nonprofit certification, which allowed them to accept donations and to solicit for dollars, expired in May 2013.
Authorities claimed the Napiers accepted the officers’ money, and possibly donations from other patrons, which led to the fraud (unlawful solicitation of funds) charge against Alan Napier, Bristow said.
The investigation, which has spanned more than six months, will be ongoing as the court-hearing process continues.
“There’s going to start being quite a few hearings,” Bristow said. “It’s hard to say — well, it’s impossible to say — when the actual trial will be. They’ve only been charged by us (the county) so far; the state attorney’s office still has time to file the formal charges.”
The Napiers appeared before Judge Charlie Roberts April 18 for their first court appearance, at which they heard the charges against them.
Sheree Napier’s $21,000 bond was paid last week. Alan Napier remains in jail.
For now, the Napiers wait for their advisory hearing in May, during which the Napiers will enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
The Napiers’ attorney, Michael Perry, did not respond for comments by press time Tuesday.
HOW TO HELP
Although area animal rescues, such as Cat Depot and Nate’s Honor Animal Rescue, continue to adopt out cats and dogs each week, area shelters, which took in animals when the Napier’s Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary was raided, still need donations and volunteers. For more information, call Manatee County Animal Services at 742-5933.
IN HIS WORDS
Michael Fleck, a veterinarian who spayed and neutered Alan and Sheree Napiers’ dogs and cats for two years, couldn’t believe the news he heard last week.
The Napiers he remembers didn’t match the couple charged with 15 counts of aggravated animal cruelty and one count of fraud April 17, Fleck said.
He thought the animals who lived at the couple’s property — Napier’s Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary — seemed to be OK; he wouldn’t have put them under anesthesia to spay them had they appeared otherwise, he said.
“All the animals I saw that they brought to me seemed reasonably healthy,” Fleck said. “Most of the rescue dogs that come in aren’t in the best grooming shape, and some of them, of course, are not at the level of weight that they should be.”
He couldn’t comment on the state of the more than 300 dogs, cats, goats, pigs, horses and other animals confiscated from the State Road 64 premises Feb. 5, because the Napiers always came to his office when they needed his services.
Despite the charges, he still believes that the Napiers hearts are in the right place.
“I believe that all animal rescues are well intentioned,” Fleck said. “I love that intention that they have, to try to find owners for pets that may not be able to survive in life.”
Contact Amanda Sebastiano at firstname.lastname@example.org.