Called to the scene of a neglect case in New York’s Hudson Valley last week, we walked onto a property that was essentially part garbage dump, part graveyard. More than 170 animals were wasting away amidst filth and debris — and the remains of their herdmates. We had to step past the body parts of the dead to get to the living. For those survivors, a long nightmare is now over.
Among the animals we found on the site were 10 emaciated month-old calves. One had stage-four pinkeye, her eye bulging and covered in a thick layer of pus and painful swollen tissue. Flies, the vector of the disease, harassed the calves, crawling over their oozing eyes and spreading the infection to the entire group. One calf had an infected umbilicus and one calf had a large hernia, both untreated.
Elsewhere on the property was a small group of adult cattle, as well as 20 sheep who were desperately emaciated and didn’t appear to have been shorn in years. Their wet, filthy coats had formed solid masses of wool, twigs, thistles, wire, and excrement; some were crawling with maggots. One sheep was so anemic that she collapsed on her way to the rescue trailers. She was unable to stand for her first days at the hospital, since maggots had eaten into her feet due to untreated hoof rot.
Outside with no safe shelter were more than 60 goats, some adults but many babies, in various stages of malnourishment. These goats were found with severe pneumonia, as well some of the worst internal and external parasite infestations we’ve ever dealt with. They were covered with biting and sucking lice — some had raw and bloody skin from scratching, and many had skin like leather or with open sores. A few were dropping their back ends when they walked, experiencing ataxia likely caused by meningeal worm infestations. The goats had been subsisting on corn stalks and other food scraps, and many were simultaneously bloated and so skinny you could easily palpate and see their back and pelvic bones. Eight goats were anemic and a few were too weak to stand for more than a few minutes at a time. A number of severely emaciated young kids were desperately looking to nurse on anyone; their mothers were likely among the dead animals we found at the site.
Inside the largest barn there were no animals housed but instead the remains of a large bull: fresh entrails, a skinned head with esophagus still connected, and hooves still connected to the bone, along with a bloody chainsaw, a bloody sawzaw and other household tools — evidence of the method behind this depraved operation. The responsible party kept these miserable animals in order to slaughter them for meat. He may have served this to customers at his nearby bakery, which sells many meat dishes. This is still unknown and a law enforcement investigation is ongoing.
The pig barn was perhaps the worst. Twenty hungry pigs and piglets were locked in their stalls. We could hear their screams from outside the barn, and they pushed at the doors to get out. Entering the building, we could barely breathe due to the stench and the ammonia in the air. The stalls didn’t appear to have ever been cleaned and were filled with feces and mud, in places ankle-deep. Of all the animals we found, they were the most psychologically damaged. They were terribly frightened of us, especially one of the mothers, who fiercely guarded her piglets. The second mother, with five piglets, seemed new to her situation and was much friendlier, but the first mother, with only two piglets, had likely watched helplessly as her other babies died from starvation or illness.
A team of 13 staff members and four volunteers left our Watkins Glen Shelter at 5 a.m. on the day of the search and seizure, arriving four hours later at the site, where we were joined by teams from Skylands Animal Sanctuary & Rescue, Catskill Animal Sanctuary, and Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. When we arrived at the farm, we were met by the amazing humane officers from Hudson Valley SPCA, including Chief Gene Hecht, Officer John Hicks, Officer Scott Hecht, and Officer Jim Kilcullan, as well as SPCA volunteers Jill Hicks and Jann Hecht.
In the chaos of this garbage-strewn, 300-acre property, it was difficult even to get an accurate count of the surviving animals, let alone convey them to safety. Making matters worse, the fencing was in ill repair, offering scant containment. The sheep and cattle had to be herded and caught, and as one would expect, they were terrified of humans. The cattle were some of the most frightened animals we’ve ever seen, and no wonder — the fresh remains we found in the slaughter barn were from one of their herdmates, killed just that morning. That we were able to lure these frightened and half-wild animals into our rescue trailers with food seemed to be a result of sheer luck and our will as a team to want to save them.
This rescue was a group effort. We’re so appreciative of everyone involved, and we’re so incredibly grateful for the team from Skylands Animal Sanctuary and founder Mike Stura. Along with the Farm Sanctuary and SPCA teams, they were there until the last animal had been loaded, well after dark. The seizure order gave us only one day, during daylight hours, to remove animals from the property, so it was crucial to get to everyone. When we arrived, we discovered that there were more pigs, sheep, and cattle than originally reported. Lacking the space to house the additional pigs, whom we had not planned to take, we desperately searched for alternatives, attempting to hire a builder last-minute to erect a provisional shelter in one of our pastures. No one would do it on such short notice. Fortunately, Skylands Animal Sanctuary stepped in and offered to house the 10 pigs we could not take, ensuring that they made it to safety.
The work was physically and emotionally exhausting, but we persisted on the site for 14 hours. At last, the animals were safely loaded into trailers and on their way to sanctuary. We were unloading until the wee hours of the morning. For many involved, it was a more than a 24-hour operation — but worth every minute knowing that the animals would now be safe.
Farm Sanctuary took in two adult cattle, five calves, four pigs, 30 goats, and seven sheep. We picked out the sickest of the animals, since we are fortunate to be close to Cornell University Hospital for Animals and also very blessed to have incredible onsite vet care from Starland Veterinary Services. We brought several animals directly to Cornell for emergency treatment. We are also covering all costs for the care of the 10 pigs currently housed at Skylands, and we will handle the pigs’ transport to their new homes — six to the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch sanctuary in Texas, two to Down to Earth Farm Sanctuary in Pennsylvania, and two to a home in Virginia — once they are ready to travel. We’ve already seen photos of this herd running ecstatically through the woods at the Skylands sanctuary — they are so happy to be outside and thankful to be together! The other large animals went home with our fellow rescue organizations Catskill Animal Sanctuary and Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. A turkey and 60 chickens found on the property were placed with local adopters through Hudson Valley SPCA.
For the next few months we will be dealing with the individual animals. We currently have eight animals at Cornell and we will have another group going in a few days. Skylands is taking the pigs, two girls and two boys per week, for spaying and neutering to get them ready for their trips to their new homes. None of the goats or cattle are strong enough for surgery, most with such low packed cell volumes that they could not undergo even the most basic procedures. We are doing multiple wormings and delousings on all the goats, we have cleaned out all the thistles and continue to treat hoof rot in the sheep, and we are trying to build these animals up so they can finally live happy, healthy lives. We will keep everyone posted on their recoveries.
And beside us every step of the way have been our supporters, who made this massive rescue possible. We could not do emergency rescues like this without kind friends like you. If you would like to help with the rehabilitation and care of these animals, and ensure that we can continue to save and advocate for more like them, please support our work through the lifesaving Emergency Rescue Fund by donating now. On the behalf of all the animals now safe and healing at sanctuary, thank you.
Many of these animals will be ready for adoptive homes once they’re healthy, and placing them will help us make room for future rescues. We especially need homes for the pigs, preferably in the same region as the shelter, and we’re also seeking adopters for several of the goats. If you can provide a loving home to some of these amazing survivors, please apply to become a part of our Farm Animal Adoption Network (FAAN).
See more photos from the rescue and its aftermath: