East Manatee animal shelter closed by county will reopen, attorney says

skennedy@bradenton.comFebruary 25, 2014 

Officials in haz-mat suits investigate the property at the Napier's Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary as over 300 dogs are processed after a raid on the rescue organization. Tips led the Manatee County Sheriff's Office along with several other local and state agencies to execute a search warrant on the property in East Manatee on S.R. 64 Wednesday morning. TIFFANY TOMPKINS-CONDIE/Bradenton Herald


MANATEE -- An attorney for the couple who operate Napier's Log Cabin Horse & Animal Sanctuary Inc., which was shut down by officials after a raid earlier this month, said they plan to reopen.

Alan and Sheree Napier were on a cruise celebrating their 27th wedding anniversary Feb. 5 when authorities raided their East Manatee animal shelter, said attorney Peter Lombardo.

The couple, who kept hundreds of animals at the shelter, came home from the cruise to find all animals confiscated and their shelter closed.

However, the Napiers do plan to reopen the shelter at 20010 E. State Road 64, Lombardo said.

"They think it's unfair," Lombardo said of the raid and accompanying investigation into allegations of fraud and animal abuse. No charges have been filed, and Lombardo said Monday "at this point, they really can't

say anything."

During a hearing Monday, Michele Hall, general counsel for the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, asked for more time in court during an upcoming hearing slated for March 12, "given the breadth of this matter." Lombardo did not object.

The judge indicated he would try to arrange more time.

Hall also sought permission to spay and neuter animals, if necessary, at the expense of the sheriff's office. Lombardo later got an OK from his clients to permit the procedures.

Many animals were found in distressed condition, and were confiscated during the raid and on subsequent occasions by the sheriff's office.

They are now housed at various animal rescue operations across the county until a court decides the custody issue.

The sheriff's office has petitioned for custody of the animals, but Lombardo said his clients would oppose the request in court.

County animal services' staff members inspected the Napier's shelter Dec. 17, examining more than 100 dogs, Lombardo said.

A multi-agency law enforcement effort, including the sheriff's office and Manatee County Animal Services, are investigating fraud and animal abuse in connection with the case.

Sheree Napier has filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, halting a foreclosure sale of property previously set for Feb. 18. The court set a March 24 meeting for creditors to make claims as part of the bankruptcy proceedings.

The health department also has also deemed the shelter a sanitary nuisance and given the Napiers 30 days to correct deficiencies.

The couple is also facing a deadline to appeal a denial by state officials of an application for a certificate registering them as a charitable organization.

The Napiers continued to list a state registration number from the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services on their website last week, even though it had expired more than eight months before, state officials told the Herald.

The shelter is still considered a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, but can no longer solicit donations on its website, said Lombardo.

The Napiers sent state officials $325 in an effort to re-establish their charitable registration and pay a late fee, but they were denied a certificate. The state so far has not returned their money, said Lombardo.

An investigation finto how complaints about the shelter were handled by county animal services employees is taking place under the auspices of Manatee County Clerk of Circuit Court and Comptroller R.B. "Chips" Shore.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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