MUNCIE, Ind. - Despite 16 years of helping and rescuing animals in Muncie, Animal Rescue Fund founder Terri Panszi encountered a first on Wednesday.
Lambs. And a spirited little goat named Billy, too.
What mostly began as an investigation by ARF into a Craigslist ad of lambs for sale ended with the rescue of nine animals in need of care and an animal neglect citation issued to Catherine Morgan, 29, of New Castle.
According to Panszi, an out-of-town woman who responded to the listing found herself at a home north of Muncie with conditions so deplorable she was compelled to call her own animal control officials in Hancock County. The woman, according to Panszi, reported dead animals stored in plastic bins outside the home.
Hancock County officials called Panszi to alert her of the home, and Panszi phoned a Delaware County sheriff's department official to investigate, The Star Press reported. When the officer did, she said, no one was home. And the officer did not find dead animals outside of the home.
Unwilling to wait longer for answers or help, officials at ARF took action instead.
ARF officials, without identifying themselves as such, showed interest in buying animals via the Craigslist ad. And when an ARF representative arrived at the home on Wednesday, the conditions were confirmed.
"Seeing what he saw, he went ahead and purchased six of these babies thinking that was all that they had there," Panszi said. "Most of them are only a week old. They still have umbilical cords on them, skeletal, in Tupperware containers covered in feces."
Panszi reached out to Donna Wilkins at the Delaware County Health Department, asking that they investigate. By Wednesday evening, officials from that agency and from the Muncie Animal Shelter were on scene. Three more lambs were found and placed in ARF's care.
"The whole condition of the trailer, oh my goodness," Wilkins said. "I thought the place just needed to be torched."
"We went in, it was what I expected," said Phil Peckinpaugh, Muncie's animal control superintendent. "The home was in pretty rough shape. There was a large collection of debris and trash. They did not have trash service and did not like to throw things away. It was a pretty good mound of trash throughout the house. And if you have farm animals in your house, you'd expect a smell. There was definitely a smell to the home of feces and urine."
Officials also realized the residence had no running water, and hadn't for some time. It was also very cold, with just one small space heater running.
"One of the issues we're concerned with is water," said Lynnetta Harley, environmental health director for Delaware County who was at the scene Wednesday evening. "They did not have water, so that is one thing we can deem it unfit for human habitation. With that said, yes, we did go ahead and do that."
The residents - Peckinpaugh believes three adults live there and that Morgan is not one of them, but officials could not get a firm answer - have five days to correct the problem before health department officials re-inspect the home.
As for the animals, by Thursday morning, one of the eight rescued lambs had died. Panszi said it was the weakest of the group when they took control of the animals. The other seven lambs and single goat - named Billy by ARF - seemed to be responding well to bottle feedings from ARF workers.
Peckinpaugh said the citation will advance to the Delaware County prosecutor's office if a representative from the state veterinarian's office confirms his findings. Peckinpaugh said that had the animals in question been dogs, he has no doubt the citation would be advanced, but that because the animals are farm animals, expectations for care are different. Water must be available at all times for dogs, but only twice a day for farm animals, for example, Peckinpaugh said.
Peckinpaugh did point out that farm animals inside of a home, especially with winter weather so often an issue in recent months, is not uncommon or bad if they're properly cared for. But in the case of these lambs and one goat, the conditions, he said, were unacceptable.
As for ARF's adventure into helping farm animals, Panszi acknowledged this incident marks another first for her organization. New or not, though, Panszi was all smiles Thursday morning, sitting on the floor of the cat house with a lap full of lambs and one spunky goat nearby.
"This is the first time we've had baby lambs, yes. I'm very, very happy about it," she said grinning ear to ear. "I'm happy to help anything that needs us. I was just unaware how precious they are. They are beyond anything I ever imagined. They're like little puppies. They wag their tails and give kisses and love to snuggle. I think it's safe to say I am just completely and totally in love with all of them."
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