In the fall of 2002, a caring citizen reported that he found a goat hanging dead in the fence of a Wisconsin farm. Later, 65 goats and sheep were discovered – live animals living amongst the corpses of their herd mates, all abandoned without food, water or any care. The owner of this farm, Fausto Florez, had been keeping the goats and sheep on ten acres and supposedly used them for consumption in his Mexican Restaurant, until he stopped taking care of them. The 2002 cruelty report was apparently documented by the sheriff’s office but no action was taken at that time.
The following spring, in 2003, neighbors observed dead piles of animals on his property, as well as several animals escaping the farm. This was reported to the sheriff and investigators found 26 dead animals. Thirty-two live goats and seven live sheep remained on the farm, with no food or water. The deceased sheep and goats allegedly died of starvation, water deprivation and neglect. One mother goat actually died while giving birth, with her baby still attached to her dead body.
District Attorney Richard DuFour charged Florez with 20 felony counts of mistreating an animal resulting in death. These charges can carry a fine of $10,000 per count or result in up to 30 years imprisonment. When the animals were found, a local animal protection group began caring for them while still on the Florez property. Later, they were granted custody of the remaining goats and sheep and moved the animals to a nearby farm for temporary holding. Finally, the 22 sheep and goats rescued from the Florez property were brought to live at our New York Shelter.
All of the goats arrived underweight and were suffering from abscesses and hoof rot, but they had voracious appetites and healed quickly with proper medical attention. Some of the sheep had severe hoof rot as well, but responded positively to treatments and were given excellent prognoses. Hoof rot is highly contagious, so it took some time to completely eradicate the infection from the herd, but now, none of the sheep or goats are showing signs of problems with their hooves. Spencer, the sheep with the worst hoof rot in the herd, also recovered completely, thanks to antibiotics, topical medicines, and regular hoof trimmings.
All of the sheep and goats were wormed shortly after their arrival at Farm Sanctuary, and as a preventive measure, they were vaccinated as well. The sheep were also shorn of their thick, mangy wool, revealing some skin conditions that needed to be treated. They seemed much more comfortable once all that excess baggage was carefully trimmed away and caregivers were grateful for the opportunity to closely examine their skin. Cody Day, a goat who was suffering from severe lameness and was walking on her knees at the time of her rescue, was taken to Cornell University’s Veterinary Hospital for diagnosis. Doctors determined that she had probably started walking on her knees because she could not extend her right front leg. Perhaps this was the result of injury or illness. A major bone in her leg, called the carpus, was locked in a flexed position and her fetlock (area above the hoof, on back of leg) was deviated slightly, preventing normal movement. For months, Cody Day lived in a private suite in our new Rescue & Rehabilitation Center, where caregivers could regularly monitor her condition and work on her leg. A splint that was changed daily helped Cody Day regain complete mobility in her leg. Regular physical therapy also helped improve her comfort and agility, and allowed her to rejoin the herd. Her leg has grown very strong and does not seem to cause her any discomfort. Each day she runs and plays in the pastures with her buddies, so happy and active it seems she never suffered an injury at all. She is certainly very happy to have healed and to be reunited with her friends.
Today, all of the sheep rescued in this cruelty case have been integrated into our main flock. Sadly, many of the Wisconsin goats have a condition called Caprine Arthritic Encephalitis, or CAE, which can cause joint disease and progressive weight loss in afflicted animals. CAE is a retrovirus, which most goats contract while they are still nursing from their mothers. The disease is most commonly found among animals raised in intensive confinement or neglectful conditions and is becoming more and more prevalent in herds across the United States. Just like many humans infected with the HIV virus, goats can carry CAE for many years and not develop the disease. For this reason, Cody Day and the other goats rescued in this case are enjoying happy, normal lives despite their diagnoses. They love living together in their family group and cherish the joy and freedom of sanctuary life. Considering what Cody Day and the rest of the sheep and goats rescued from Fausto Florez’s farm were forced to endure, it is a miracle that they survived at all. Yet they did, and now they are even learning to trust again. Once so fearful around people that they would scramble away at the first sound of a human’s approach, they are now comfortable having staff come close to them. They even allow caregivers to touch them and seem to enjoy this contact. Humbling to behold, their blossoming trust and capacity for forgiveness should inspire us all to be more loving and compassionate ourselves.