PAWS confiscates 77 severely neglected animals from Laurel Hill 'rescue' facility
LAUREL HILL — Panhandle Animal Welfare Society officers confiscated 77 animals late last week from a Laurel Hill farm that billed itself as a rescue facility.
A news release originally posted on Facebook said animal control officers arrived at the Fyre Branch Rescue to find dead piglets and chickens in various states of decomposition and hogs standing in three feet of their own waste "feeding on the dead."
It described emaciated horses with open sores that had no clean water available and said horse skulls, jaw bones and cow horns were "scattered across the filthy property."
PAWS officials removed 11 horses, 14 pigs, 47 birds, three dogs and two cats, according to the news release.
The majority of the animals were turned over to Alaqua Animal Refuge in Freeport, though the release said PAWS itself had taken custody of the pigs.
The owner of Fyre Branch Rescue goes by different aliases but is known in Okaloosa County jail and court records as Shandi LeBron. LeBron's address is listed as 8345 Davis Road, Laurel Hill, which records show to be a 36-acre parcel. Officials confirmed the Davis Road address was the location from which the animals were rescued.
PAWS animal control officer Katie Healey, who is investigating the Laurel Hill neglect case, had confirmed that Shandi LeBron "has a lot of bad background in Texas and Louisiana," according to PAWS Executive Director Tracey Williams.
A Crystal LeBron, aka Shandi LeBron, was adjudicated guilty in 2016 of cruelty to livestock.
Amy Hanchey, president of the Pegasus Equine Guardian Association in Lafayette, Louisiana, said LeBron managed a nonprofit that accepted wild horses rounded up by the federal government on property managed by the Department of Defense and U.S. Forestry Service. The horses were then either sold for a profit or sent to "kill pens" for slaughter, Hanchey said.
Hanchey said her organization and several others worked hard, and ultimately succeeded, in removing LeBron from a position of overseeing the well-being of animals. Hanchey said the last she had heard, LeBron had relocated from Louisiana/Texas, to Florida.
Following the confiscation of the animals at the Laurel Hill farm, LeBron surrendered custody of all of the horses except one of them, the PAWS news release said.
The horse LeBron refused to surrender was one named Joker. PAWS is caring for Joker and will be going to court to battle for custody, according to the news release.
“She claims she is a ‘rescue’ and even peddles for donations, when her animals are living in squalor,” Healey said in the release.
In November, Healey inspected the Laurel Hill property and put LeBron on a “care plan” to fix conditions that were not remotely as bad as those discovered in the more recent visit to the rescue facility, the release said.
“There was just a steady decline,” according to Healey. “Instead of taking my advice and running with it, she ran the opposite direction.”
Laurie Hood, founder and president of Alaqua, had a personal interest in the case against LeBron because one of the horses found in her custody, known as “Brandy” because it had brands all over it, had been adopted out last summer to a trainer.
The trainer sold the horse to Fyre Branch Rescue, the release said.
Legally, the horse still belongs to Alaqua, the news release said. Under his contract with Alaqua, the adopter doesn’t own the animal for a year.
"That is to prevent adopters from ‘flipping’ them, meaning getting a horse at little expense, then selling them for a high price," the release said.
"PAWS is pursuing neglect charges and continuing its investigation to find out if the Fyre Branch Rescue owner is involved in horse flipping," it said.
Hood confirmed that she had heard from "multiple, multiple people," about LeBron's previous unsavory dealings with animals.
"It was an honor to work with the team at PAWS on this case. They did whatever it took to ensure that no animal was left behind, despite unimaginable conditions," Hood said. "It was all in the name of helping animals who could not help themselves, and it took teamwork and trust to accomplish it."
The PAWS release said any donations to go to the care of the confiscated animals "are appreciated."
"Veterinary expenses, feed and staff time will be expensive and take months," the release said.