MANATEE -- Despite claims by county officials that they previously never found major violations at an East Manatee animal shelter raided this week, county records show animal service officers had found problems at the facility since at least 2011 -- and at the same time the county continued transferring dogs and cats there.
According to Manatee County spokesman Nick Azzara, animal service officers only found "minor violations" during their multiple inspections of Napier's Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary. No citations were ever issued, and officers would work with property owners to address potential violations, he said.
"At no time did the inspections officers notice any evidence of animal abuse or neglect," Azzara said.
A multi-agency law enforcement effort led by the Manatee County Sheriff's Office with the assistance of Manatee County Animal Services executed a search warrant Wednesday and seized about 300 animals in an animal cruelty case.
The investigation is still on-going, and no arrests have been made by owners Alan and Sheree Napier, who could be facing animal cruelty and fraud charges.
On Thursday, the sheriff's office returned to finish looking for evidence at the property and uncovered a shallow grave with the remains of 20 dead dogs and cats.
"Dogs and cats have relatively short life spans, and Alan and Sheree took in very sick or unadoptable animals from Manatee County Animal Services and private in
dividuals, whereas most animal rescue organizations do not," said Adron Walker, attorney for the Napiers.
"Should it not then be expected, and, in fact, wasn't it inevitable, that some of these animals would die at the sanctuary? Don't all of us pet owners have pets buried or their ashes spread in our backyards, or cremated by our veterinarians and disposed of elsewhere?"
Walker states that there are two sides to every story but admits he clients were not the best animal care-takers.
"We already know, and I will admit, that Alan and Sheree and their story will not be perfect; everyone now knows now that they were sloppy and hoarded," Walker said. "A sloppy hoarder does not equate, however, to an animal abuser."
Records of transfer of dogs and cats from animal services to animal rescues from Jan. 1, 2007 to Feb. 7, 2014, reveal a total of 135 cats and 151 dogs were transferred to Napier, the sixth highest number of transfers.
On Sept. 8, 2011, an animal services officer was sent out to Napier's sanctuary to inspect the facility and health of the animals after receiving a second call. The first call came on Aug. 31, 2011. The officer met with Alan and Sheree Napier and found a total of 92 dogs, 33 cats, 12 horses and six hogs, according to animal services documents.
"The property was partially flooded and they had to move some of the dogs together, making some of the cages overcrowded and not proper shelter for the amount of dogs in the cages," the officer wrote. "The dogs were muddy but seemed to be in good health and happy. They received 30 dogs on Aug. 18 and have had them all shaven and cleaned up."
The following day, animal services transferred 13 cats to Napier, and the following week they transferred four dogs to them.
On Sept. 21, 2012, two animal service officers were sent out to Napier to inspect the condition of the animals. The officers met with the Napiers and saw 91 dogs, 60 cats, 15 horses, five pigs and one goat on the property.
"All of the animals were in good condition with the exception of two dogs that had green mucus in the eyes and one horse that was very thin and about 20 years old," one officer reported. "There were also six sick cats in a quarantined area being treated for upper respiratory illness."
The other officer reported "that some of the horses are thin but these animals are old and were given to them in this condition."
Four days later, animal services transferred 13 dogs to the animal rescue.
On June 10, 2013, an animal service officer was sent out to Napier's in response to a letter that was sent to county commissioners to inspect the property for violations. The officer met with the couple and counted 112 dogs, 56 cats, 12 horses, four hogs and four goats at the facility.
"In the past week they have had rain almost everyday and some of the cages were flooded so they had to move some of the dogs and double up the cages to keep the dogs out of the flooded cages," the officer wrote. "The dogs are dirty due to the rain but they have all food or water and shelter provided and are being taken care of."
A couple weeks later, three more dogs were transferred to the facility.
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.