Updated: Deputies, Veterinarians Return to Orange Co. Farm

Posted: Updated: Oct 20, 2015 05:35 PM

Animal rescue groups from around the region are trying to nurse back to health dozens of horses taken from an Orange County farm.

Meanwhile, the sheriff's office is still adding up the number of animals found dead or surviving under neglected conditions.

According to an affidavit for a search warrant, the first concerns about the conditions at Peaceable Farm came in to the sheriff's office on October 3. Several calls came in over the weekend, leading deputies to get a search warrant for the farm on Monday, Oct. 19.

Investigators discovered more than 100 horses on the farm during that search. Some of the animals are reported to be fine, but others are described as being emaciated and even collapsing. A large number of cats and dogs have also been discovered on the property.

“Some of these animals are in very good shape. Many of them are in bad shape,” said Orange Co. Sheriff Mark Amos.

More than a dozen animal rescue groups, some from as far away as Maryland, lined up trailers Tuesday on the dirt driveway into the farm.

Afton-based nonprofit Hope's Legacy Equine Rescue (HLEP) is one of the groups.

“This is by far the worst that I've personally dealt with,” said HLEP founder Maya Proulx.

Proulx says many of the animals appear to have been neglected for months if not years. HLEP is now caring for two dozen horses and a mini-donkey taken from Peaceable Farm.

“Horse people are very caring folks. They really have strong attachments to their animals. Seeing horses treated like this really hits them hard,” she said.

Veterinarians have been checking conditions of each animal at Peaceable Farm. Smaller animals are being taken to the county’s shelter, while the horses are being driven away to be quarantined and cared for.

“We have been tagging them: those that need immediate care, those that don't need care at all, or some that need some care. We've been tagging them with different colored tags. That's how we keep track of the animals,” Sheriff Amos said.

Proulx's stable will be packed for months. She's asking the community for help with hay, supplies, and donations as these horses slowly recover.

“It's hard to see the situation these horses are in, and it's hard to believe they're going to be able to move on from it. But, horses are incredibly resilient animals,” she said.

Somerset's Peaceable Farm filed paperwork as recently as 2013 to be a nonprofit, "organized and operated exclusively for the prevention of cruelty to animals.”

Sheriff Amos says the owner of the farm is cooperating with the investigation. So far, no charges have been filed in this investigation.

Press Release from the Orange County Sheriff's Office:

As previously reported, the Orange County Sheriff's Office executed a search warrant on Peaceable Farm in Somerset, Virginia on October 19, 2015.

Upon executing the search warrant, deputies discovered a number of horses, cats and dogs on the property in various states. Numerous dead horses and cats were discovered along with many live ones. More than 100 live horses were found in different health stages, some of whom were in bad shape and some who were in good condition.

Over the course of the last two days, deputies and veterinarians have been evaluating every animal on the farm to determine its health status. Large numbers of cats, dogs and horses have been removed from the property and are currently placed in temporary shelters. These animals were removed with the land owner's permission and consent although a number of them met the criteria for Virginia Code 3.2-6569. Without the consent of the owner, the Sheriff's Office would only have been able to remove the horses that were almost dead. Specific numbers are not currently available but they should be in the next day or so.

The Orange County Sheriff's Office is currently conducting a criminal investigation into the conditions that were discovered on the farm. The Orange Commonwealth's Attorney came to the farm yesterday, October 19th, and saw the condition of the animals and the farm. Deputies are working with her office to determine the types and number of charges resulting from this investigation.

The Orange Sheriff's Office has previously been called to investigate a number of complaints about skinny and neglected horses at this farm beginning in September of 2014. On those occasions, animal control deputies went to the property and looked into the allegations and determined that the animals were not seize able in accordance with Virginia Code 3.2-6569. That code section states that a law enforcement officer or animal control officer may lawfully seize and impound any animal "that has been abandoned, has been cruelly treated, or is suffering from an apparent violation of this chapter that has rendered the animal in such a condition as to constitute a direct and immediate threat to its life, safety or health." In practice this means that a veterinarian has to determine that an animal is almost dead.....anything less is not seize able.

Additionally, in the last few days, a number of people have complained to Sheriff Amos about the performance of the animal control section of the Sheriff's Office. Sheriff Amos takes complaints against deputies very seriously and an internal investigation has been started to determine if the complaints are true and if any action needs to be taken.

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