EAST COUNTY — For the last two weeks, Beth Shuttleworth’s life has been all about her 800-pound guests.
After she offered her assistance to provide shelter for some of the horses seized from Napier’s Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary Feb. 5, she realized she had her hands full.
Now, she works to run her business, Whispering Ranches Feed, located in Myakka City, while taking breaks throughout the day to check in on the 17 rescued horses who live on the pasture behind the store.
Law enforcement officials confiscated more than 300 animals from Napier’s property off State Road 64 and relocated them to area shelters. Napier’s owners Alan and Sheree Napier, however, have refused to grant possession of the animals to law enforcement, said Dave Bristow, public information officer for the sheriff’s office.
The Napiers plan to take the situation to court in hopes of regaining ownership of their animals, Bristow said.
However, Manatee County officials have decided to delve deeper into the events leading up to the Napier’s raid, to determine if, or how, the case could have been avoided. Last year, county officials visited the premises more than 20 times, following complaints from adoptive families that dogs and cats were covered in fleas and ticks and were “overly dirty.”
The Manatee County Administrator’s Office contracted with an anonymous company to conduct research. Specifics as to what the company may be looking into, or what it has found, remain undisclosed at this time.
However, Director of the Manatee County Department of Public Safety Ron Koper suspects the investigation will center around phone calls the county received.
Officials, Koper said, were limited in their ability to search the Napier property because they were only allowed to access areas of Napier’s with pre-approval, without sufficient evidence to obtain a search warrant and with loose standards in place.
Koper suspects that the reluctance of the shelter’s owners to allow authorities to search at random, and where the officers chose, may have been the reason the couple seemed to have everything in order.
“It was much worse on the inside than what we were able to see before,” Koper said.
Looking back, Koper wonders about a process to prohibit certain people from adopting animals, should animal services have received complaints about that person’s care previously.
He found no such policy.
Although no dates have been released as to when the internal investigation will conclude, Koper plans to utilize its findings, and his own ideas, to establish best practices for animal cruelty cases.
Moving forward, Koper believes the need for clarity of guidelines as to what shelters should look like, could be the key to preventing such cases from getting to the criminal level.
“There’s no specific language that protects the animals; it’s generally the officer’s judgment call,” Koper said.
“Folks suggest we have an inspection process for shelters — there’s no such thing now,” he says. “For Napier’s, they were established as an animal sanctuary, and there’s no guidance with how you’re allowed to run those, how many animals you’re allowed to have, and so on.”
Koper also recommends a stricter policy about who can adopt animals, which could include limitations as to how many animals a person, or shelter, may rescue per year.
Turning away individuals wanting to adopt could worsen the condition at over-populated shelters and make it even more difficult for Manatee County to obtain its goal of adopting out 90% of homeless animals, as part of its “No Kill commitment,” Koper said.
Koper and his staff continue to struggle with not euthanizing animals, as the space for the now 29 extra occupants at the downtown Bradenton animal shelter becomes even smaller.
“The best way to help, not just now, but especially now, is for community members, interested and capable, to adopt animals during these critical space issue times,” Koper said.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Area shelters, such as Nate’s Honor Animal Rescue and the Humane Society at Lakewood Ranch, along with individual volunteers, such as Beth Shuttleworth, need donations.
Shuttleworth will host a charity event to help aid her in the cost of caring for seized horses from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., March 1, at Whispering Ranches Feed, 4922 Verna Bethany Road, Myakka City. Call 962-2247, or visit whisperingranchesfeed.com for more information.
The Sarasota-based rescue, Cat Depot, also needs help. Donations, such as money or supplies, would help the organization care for the 34 animals it received. Items such as beds, cat litter, old bath towels and treats are needed. Volunteers also are needed. Individuals interested in donating time or items, should call Corey at 366-2404 or visit catdepot.org.
While monetary donations are preferred at most shelters, contact local organizations for more information as to what they need, or call the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, at 747-3011, Ext. 1151.
Contact Amanda Sebastiano at [email protected]