Raid rescues hundreds of animals in Manatee

jdeleon@bradenton.comFebruary 6, 2014 

EAST MANATEE -- A multi-agency law enforcement effort, including the Manatee County Sheriff's Office and Manatee County Animal Services, raided Napier's Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary in East Manatee just before 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Investigators executed search warrants at the animal rescue, which for years has operated under a closed-door policy. The closed doors raised questions of its selling animals sick or older than claimed. An investigation was launched Dec. 9 after an anonymous complaint.

Many of the rumors were confirmed Wednesday, according to law enforcement officials at the scene.

"Truly in my 33-year career I have never, never seen anything as horrible," Capt. Lorenzo Waiters of Manatee County Sheriff's Office said. "It's horrible how you would treat animals with feces all over."

Waiters, District 3 patrol supervisor, arrived in the afternoon to assist and see for himself the horrors colleagues had been describing.

"It's worse than you can imagine," Waiters said.

No arrests were made but an investigation is ongoing into animal abuse and fraud charges against owners Alan and Sheree Napier.

The State Attorney's Office Animal Division offered law enforcement guidance during the raid. Assistant State Attorney Lisa Chittaro will decide if charges will be filed once the investigation is complete.

The couple who run the nonprofit were not on site when investigators arrived. The Napiers were reportedly on vacation but their attorney, Adron Walker, was called to the property by their children who said they were upset the property had been taken over by law enforcement.

"The closure has happened despite every effort on the part of Alan and Sheree to cooperate with all possible governmental agencies that regulate the care of animals," Walker said in statement. "This closure also occurred despite the fact that Alan and Sheree have maintained an open, continuous dialogue with Manatee County Animal Services for years and are typically inspected by Manatee County Animal Services on a quarterly basis."

The Department of Agriculture, Fish and Wildlife Commission and Florida's Division of Worker's Compensation worked with the Manatee County Animal Abuse Coalition in the raid. Several crime scene units and technicians helped process evidence from the property. Technicians and investigators all wore haz-mat suits entering the home.

"You are overwhelmed when you walk into the home with a smell of ammonia," Manatee County Sheriff's Office spokesman Dave Bristow said. "There is just feces everywhere.

Investigators counted more than 200 dogs among the estimated 300 animals removed by the end of the day. Cats, horses, goats, chickens, hogs and geese were also rescued, according to the sheriff's office.

Three veterinarians helped take inventory. Each animal was tagged, numbered, photographed and evaluated by a veterinarian, according to Waiters.

The couple's attorney said as much attention should be paid to the animals in good condition as those in poor health.

"If 10 or 20 animals are found to be in poor health or condition out of the 200 or more animals that Alan and Sheree at any one time cared for, that is both regrettable and should be corrected. But do those 10 or 20 justify ignoring the benefits received by the 180 or 190 animals, that 90 percent or 95 percent that are now in good health or condition, but might not otherwise be cared for or alive today?" Walker said. "Then, everyone should ask themselves: Is a 75 percent, 80 percent or 90 percent success rate that bad?"

Animal Services requested help from Nate's Honor Animal Rescue to remove the dogs. Local animal rescue groups, big and small, also offered help in removing and caring for the animals.

Joan Ellis, Second Chance Boxer Rescue Board member, was one of the first to arrive to watch the commotion.

"I have been hoping for this for a long time, " Ellis said.

Rumors have circulated about the animal rescue group for years, she said.

"Anyone who doesn't have an open-door policy worries me," Ellis said.

Returning to take four boxers from the premises, Ellis said she was appalled by her first glimpse into the facility.

"There was kibble on top of hardened feces," Ellis said. "The smell is pretty horrocious (cq) ... broken wires, broken boards ... piles and piles of rubbish."

Investigators also contacted Whispering Ranches Feed in Myakka City, a feed and animal nutrition store, which brought bales of hay for the horses, said Randy Warren of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office. Later, the horse were transported to Whispering Ranches.

Florida Dachshund Rescue also helped.

"I have to compliment the State Attorney's Office, and all the rescues, for standing behind this and the sheriff's office for doing this today," Florida Dachshund Rescue Board member Colleen Malone said. "We can rest tonight."

Since 2004, Malone said there is documentation of complaints against the nonprofit.

"They were taking money from the public," Malone said.

Law enforcement officials would not detail the nature of the investigation into fraud.

Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said animals were transferred to Napier up until January when it was removed from the list of approved rescue agencies because of the investigation.

"The county transfers animals to the rescues that apply and are approved by Animal Services," Whitmore said. "I'm glad that this happened. I'm glad that he doesn't have any animals anymore, especially when I hear that there has been apparent abuse. No one deserves abuse no matter whether it's a human or an animal."

Residents and business owners dropped off donations of food and drinks during the day to law enforcement in appreciation of their efforts. Many who drove past honked, gave thumbs-up signs or cheered the investigation.

Manatee County officials posted a sign deeming the building or property unsafe and use or occupancy prohibited until repairs and inspections are complete.

The Florida Department of Health was called to investigate the conditions at the home.

"The amazing thing is these people were living here," Bristow said.

To donate food or supplies for the animals, call 941-747-3011, ext. 1151. To adopt an animal, call Manatee County Animal Services at 941-742-5933.

Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.

Bradenton Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service