The community's strong outcry over the wretched conditions at a privately owned East Manatee animal shelter compelled Manatee County officials to take a prudent course of action -- an internal investigation into Animal Services.
Last week's multi-agency law enforcement raid on Napier Family Farm and Animal Rescue netted 300 dogs, cats, horses, goats, chickens, hogs and geese, many suffering from diseases and infections, malnourished and filthy. Thankfully, Manatee County's animal rescue organizations and veterinarians stepped up to take in the animals and nurse them back to health.
Led by the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, investigators executed a search warrant on Feb. 5. That only came about after an anonymous complaint in December, and that was not the first one. The conditions at Napier -- described as "horrible" and "it's worse than you can imagine" by one law enforcement officer -- could not have developed suddenly. This community needs a thorough explanation about how this situation devolved.
Citizen complaints about the so-called shelter had obliged Animal Services to investigate, yet over the past three years the county only found "minor violations" there, never issued any citations and continued to transfer dogs and cats to the closed-door facility.
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Besides a detailed examination of Animal Services, the county should address policy issues: Are Manatee's standards for animal shelters too lax? And why would the county transfer hundreds of dogs and cats to one place?
Alan and Sheree Napier, the owners of the facility, could face animal cruelty and fraud charges. One of the couple's attorneys, Adron Walker, admitted in a Herald report that the two were "sloppy and hoarded" but a "sloppy hoarder does not equate, however, to an animal abuser."
Whether prosecutors pursue charges remains to be seen, but the court of public opinion is pointing a finger at the county for allowing "sloppy" hoarding. County commissioners got a scolding at Tuesday's meeting from rightfully upset citizens. At that time, county officials pledged that they "can and will do better in the future." Indeed, the county needs to strengthen oversight of the facilities where it places animals.