Last week, Laurie Hood witnessed what she calls her worst moment in six years of operating Alaqua Animal Refuge.
It began when Walton County Sheriff's Office called her on July 5 to help in what she thought would be a horse rescue and assist. Hood took in four horses that almost did not survive due to being very malnourished.
One horse that was left behind had an injured eye and the owner, Nancy Payne, was given a set number of days to seek medical attention for the horse. When WCSO returned to the property last week to check on the situation, they found that Payne had not sought medical attention for the animal and she was taken into custody and charged with one count of animal cruelty.
At this point Hood was called again to assist with more horses and a large number of dogs that were on the property. That day, Hood took in 97 dogs and five horses from Payne's property. The horses included a mare with a newborn, all of which were running free.
The dogs were running in and out of a double-wide trailer where they were housed.
Veterinarian Amy Williams, who assisted in the removal, had to don a mask to enter the trailer.
"The conditions of the dogs were horrible," she said. "They were covered in feces and urine. As we were collecting them, one was giving birth, and there were babies crawling around in feces."
The rescue took place in a torrential downpour and the rescuers were using flashlights to try to locate all the dogs. Since then five of the dogs have died.
Most were females and three quarters of them are pregnant.
Most appear to be purebreds of all ages, but not of the same breed.
There was a large sack of dog food in the trailer that had been torn into by the dogs and spilled out into the floor, but no fresh food or clean water was seen inside the house.
Dominant canines were of average weight, but the older more timid and submissive ones were underweight. There were also sick ones and the malnourished.
"We found the whole spectrum from top to bottom," said Williams.
All were flea infested and many had skin sores from scratching and fighting, eye injuries, she said.
The first casualty was the female that was in labor while the rescue was taking place. She died with her puppies inside of her.
The animal's socialization varied from friendly to feral. All had matted fur, according to reports. The worst was a mother with three newborns who had infected skin. Many of the dogs were fearful and biting and afraid of being touched. The staff at Alaqua are working to socialize these.
Most prefer canned food and 97 percent are eating, said Williams.
Flea treatments and dewormings have begun, as well as vaccinations. Checking for heart worms is next.
Whether Payne was living in the double wide with the dogs is unclear. There was a mattress on the floor in one of the bedrooms, said Williams.
"When the Sheriff's deputies opened the trailer, I was in there for five hours," she said. "No one should be in there for five hours. There was a sludge of feces in the carpet and rotting furniture and trash laying around. There were clothes there, but puppies were coming out of bureau drawers. It looked like it had been abandoned for years."
All of the animals are currently at Alaqua, which is requiring a lot of volunteer help.
"We're learning day by day what we've got here," said Hood. "Due to the sheer numbers, this is probably the worst case I have encountered in six years. We are providing shelter and safety. All the surviving ones are putting on weight with fresh food and water. The best case scenario is if she would give them up and we could get custody and adopt them out. I hope it can be worked out so we can do what is best for the animals."
Payne was out on bond when a second warrant was obtained late Wednesday afternoon by investigators with the Walton County Sheriff’s office for the arrest of Payne, 49. Payne turned herself in today and was arrested for 102 felony counts of animal cruelty. A second search warrant was also executed Wednesday at 1426 JW Hollington Road, Freeport, for the remainder of the animals. Eight more horses, two donkeys and three more dogs were rescued and have been taken to various locations for temporary custody. There will be more charges forthcoming.
Hood said her most pressing need is money to assist in caring for the animals and nursing them back to health.
A second warrant was obtained by investigators Wednesday and Nancy Payne turned herself in to face 102 felony counts of animal cruelty. A second search warrant was also executed and eight horses, two donkeys and three dogs were rescued and have been taken to various locations for temporary custody. There will be more charges forthcoming.For more information about Alaqua, visit www.alaquaanimalrefuge.org or call 880-6399.