Sampson law enforcement, citizens and numerous donors have ensured that dozens of horses receive proper care following their rescue from “disgusting” conditions two months ago in an animal cruelty case that now has pending civil and criminal implications.
Those horses may soon be adopted to new homes if a $15,000 bond is not paid by the previous owner by this week.
The removal of the animals from a Bob Rupert Lane property in northern Sampson, near Dunn, in mid-June and early July came on the heels of a month-long investigation into potential animal cruelty that involved a large number of malnourished horses being kept on less than five acres of land
Tammy Montiel, 40, of Cameron, was subsequently charged with 18 counts of animal cruelty and placed under $5,000 bond.
Following the initial probe in mid-June, she voluntarily surrendered 14 horses. On July 1, 37 horses, nine ducks, five chickens and nine guineas were seized from her rental property on Bob Rupert Lane and transported to the Sampson Livestock Facility on U.S. 421 South.
Sampson County Sheriff’s authorities are now awaiting resolution on a civil order filed against Montiel.
“In this instance, due to the large number we had to seize, we actually did a civil lawsuit,” Animal Control Sgt. Jessica Kittrell said. “That basically incorporates the county being able to care for the horses at the expense of the owner while animal cruelty charges are pending.”
If the county can prove it had valid reasons to seize the animals and the owner cannot pay the civil bond for the county’s cost of caring for the animals, the animals are forfeited to the county, “at which time they will become county property and that’s when we would be able to hopefully adopt them out,” Kittrell said.
In a civil hearing this past week, on Aug. 25, presiding Judge Sarah Seaton levied a $15,000 bond amount that must be paid by Montiel or the horses will be forfeited to the county. Sheriff Jimmy Thornton said that bond has to be paid within five business days.
“I’m hoping Tuesday (today) or Wednesday, if the bond is not posted, they’ll be available for (adoption),” Kittrell added. “We have to go through a process with the county commissioners because we haven’t had anything in place for livestock. That’s what I’m really pushing, because I’ve done a lot with this case … and we want something in place for livestock so we can adopt them out to a qualified home — not simply a mass auction where they can go wherever. That’s what we don’t want.”
Thornton said the county could either dispose of the horses by surplus sale or adopting them out.
“Of course, we’re going to do the latter because we’re not going to sell those horses,” he said, echoing Kittrell. “(Those fostering) would be given the option to keep them if they want them.”
While no adoptions can take place yet, many stepped forward to foster, especially when an event at the livestock arena meant that a bulk of the rescued horses had to be temporarily displaced.
“None of them have been adopted out just yet. They have been fostered out,” said Thornton. “The 4-H was having a show so we had to remove the lion’s share of them from the livestock arena and place them in locations where people would serve as foster home for them.”
“We were utilizing the George Upton Livestock Arena because the county has no facility to house horses. Our initial goal was to keep all the horses in one place pending the court proceedings,” Kittrell added, “but Cooperative Extension actually had to use the livestock arena so the Sheriff’s Office had to (remove the horses).”
Four citizens stepped forward to foster the majority of the horses, while 13 of them are still at the arena.
Thornton is fostering six of the horses, himself, but does not plan to adopt them.
“They’re doing well,” the sheriff said. “My wife, her sister and granddaughter have thoroughly fell in love with them.”
Thornton said he is hoping the county can establish an adoption fee for horses, chickens and other animals, similar to what is now in place for cats and dogs. Kittrell reiterated the need for those procedures in adopting out livestock, something that will likely be addressed at tonight’s Sampson Board of Commissioners meeting.
“I know the county kind of sporadically dealt with horses throughout the history of Animal Control, it’s just really increased since the Sheriff’s Office took (the unit) over because you have law enforcement investigators who can act quickly within the means of the law and we’re out aggressively looking for cruelty,” Kittrell said.
In the Bob Rupert Lane case, they found a prime example of that.
The Southeast Coast Region of the U.S. Equine Rescue League (USERL), a national, non-profit equine rescue organization, noted in its June 13 assessment of the operation that ponies, miniature horses, yearlings and elderly horses were co-mingled in several enclosures in a barn at the residence near Plain View. Most of the horses were suffering from malnutrition, and many had open wounds, serious infections and skin issues, group officials said. Five horses were immediately seized at that point.
USERL Chapter director Debbie Walsh Bartholomew called it “disgusting” and “one of the worst cases we’ve seen in North Carolina.”
At that time, Kittrell noted that the Bob Rupert Lane resident, then-unnamed Montiel, was attempting to reduce the number of animals on her property, which included 54 horses at the June 13 count. Of those 54, 14 were voluntarily surrendered, 37 were subsequently seized and the Bureau of Land Management got three of the horses.
“Since that time, we’ve actually had two births, so there are two new ones,” Kittrell noted.
Efforts of many
Thornton lauded Kittrell’s efforts., as well as the outpouring of community support since the horses were taken in.
“She has really put in a tremendous amount of manhours in this. She does an excellent job and we couldn’t have anyone better doing the job than she does, as far as dedication and concern for the well-being of all the animals, not just horses,” Thornton said. “And we have had a lot of people who have come to the aid as far as providing things that assisted us in looking after these animals for the past two and a half months.”
Thornton noted that several non-profit agencies and community volunteers responded along with deputies to the residence to help with the seizure and removal of the animals. Numerous others helped transport the animals to the livestock facility and still many have cared for the animals in the weeks since.
Hay donations have been made by Sherry Bostic, Twiddle Dee Farm, as well as Valley Proteins of Rose Hill, which gave 60 bales of hay. 4-Hers out of Wayne County groomed and bathed horses, while Mule City Feeds of Benson donated 3,000 pounds of feed, about $1,400 worth, Kittrell noted. Still many others pitched in, including Turlington Lumber Co. donating labor and materials, as did Henry Lucas. Cindy Robinson donated feed, Roger McLean gave his time and equipment and Jane Ford donated “invaluable” time and experience dealing with horses, as well as feed and halters.
Ivesco has donated medicine to treat bacterial infections, worms and internal parasites and local veterinarians, Dr. Bill Oglesby and Dr. Danny Henry also provided their assistance, Kittrell said.
And there have been many others, whose contributions have all aided the effort.
Photographs of the horses when they were seized and photos now are a “night and day” difference, the sheriff attested.
While the civil lawsuit is expected to receive resolution this week, the criminal case against Montiel is ongoing. It was continued Thursday.
Thornton said he will see to it that the case continues to be pursued.
“This lady has had her operation in Harnett County, Cumberland County and Hoke County. She has been charged previously in Cumberland County. Whenever it became such a burdensome thing for Cumberland, trying to get all the animals, they dropped the charges because they didn’t want to have to deal with all this mess,” the sheriff said.
“When she came here, we weren’t going to play,” he continued. “We took care of business. She played the system in the other counties and we’re not letting her play the system here.”
Reach staff writer Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.