Who, age What Where, County When Last Known Address
Alan S. Napier, 51(1) hoarding - 300+ animals seized from sanctuary

Manatee, FL

Manatee County

February 5, 2014  
Sheree L. Napier,45(2) hoarding - 300+ animals seized from sanctuary

Manatee, FL

Manatee County

February 5, 2014  
Edward Dunham, DVM, 75(3) veterinarian charged with aggravated animal cruelty for using ketamine inappropriately

Palmetto, FL

Manatee County

April 19, 2014  
Type of Crime Other Crimes #/Type of animal(s) involved Case Status Next Court Date /Courthouse
Felony

(1)Fraud, complaints of animal neglect go back to 2009

16 horses 250+ dogs, 36+ cats, pigs, geese, chickens & goats

(1,2) Convicted

(3) pre-trial diversion contract, surrendered is license to practice

The Manatee County Judicial Center

The stench was overwhelming. The hardwood floors were spongy with urine. Kibble was scattered over dried up feces inside the rusty cages. Animals were everywhere. So were fleas.

That was the scene described by law enforcement officers and animal rescue workers who raided Napier's Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary in east Manatee County.

Hundreds of animals are being seized from the 10-acre property on State Road 64 as part of a criminal investigation into animal cruelty and fraud. An anonymous tip sparked the investigation in December, leading to the execution of a search warrant on February 5th.

  Photo courtesy of Tiffany Tompkins-Condie/Bradenton Herald.

A Sheriff's deputy inspects dog kennels shortly after arriving at the Napier's Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary where over 300 dogs were found 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.

  Photo courtesy of Tiffany Tompkins-Condie/Bradenton Herald. A skeletal horse is led to some hay.

“I've been doing this job for 33 years, and I have never seen anything this horrible,” said Manatee County Sheriff's Capt. Lorenzo Waiters. “It's hard to put in words. “You try to imagine it in your head, but you go back and see it, and it's worse than you could ever imagine.”

Workers tended to what could be as many as 300 dogs, dozens of cats, nine horses, as well as pigs, geese, chickens and goats.

EMS arrived to treat one worker who was bitten by a dog.

The animals ranged in age, breed and condition, officials said. Three veterinarians were on scene to treat animals. “None were dead,” sheriff's spokesman Dave Bristow said. “But some may have to be euthanized.”

Representatives with animal shelters across the region — including Nate's Honor Animal Rescue, Manatee County and Lakewood Ranch Humane Societies and Second Chance Boxer Rescue — were called to pick up some of the smaller animals. “It's a happy day for these animals,” said Chris Legge from the Humane Society of Lakewood Ranch, which took 3 of the dogs.

The horses were taken to Whispering Ranches in Myakka City, where an employee specializes in equine nutrition. “They need more than what the jail has the ability to do,” Sgt. Rob Hendrickson said, referencing the sheriff's farm at the jail.

Crews were planning to work through the night and into the next day — evaluating, numbering, photographing and removing the animals.

The owners of the property, Alan and Sheree Napier, were not home when the search warrant was executed. Family members did arrive late that morning, frustrated with what was happening.

An attorney for the Napier's, Adron H. Walker, said the couple had informed Animal Services that they would be out of town this week and their children would be caring for the animals.

“The closure has happened despite every effort on the part of Alan and Sheree to cooperate with all possible governmental agencies that regulate the care of animals,” Walker stated.

No one has been arrested, but the investigation is ongoing. According to the sanctuary's website, the not-for-profit rescue has been in operation since 2004.

The Napier's own 2 other properties on Wingate and Ballard roads.

Bristow said the sheriff's office is aware of those locations, but said they were not part of this raid.

Personnel from the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, Animal Services, Building Department, Health Department, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Committee, Florida Department of Agriculture and State Attorney's Office were on scene.

“It's worse than what we anticipated,” Bristow said. “This is hoarding animals. Have you ever heard of that many animals in one place?”

“It's a happy day for these animals,” said Chris Legge from the Humane Society of Lakewood Ranch.

    

Photo's courtesy of Elizabeth Johnson/The Herald-Tribune

Update 2/6/14: Investigators executed search warrants at the animal rescue, which for years has operated under a closed-door policy. The closed doors raised questions of its selling animals sick or older than claimed. An investigation was launched Dec. 9 after an anonymous complaint.

"Truly in my 33-year career I have never, never seen anything as horrible," Capt. Lorenzo Waiters of Manatee County Sheriff's Office said. "It's horrible how you would treat animals with feces all over."

Waiters, District 3 patrol supervisor, arrived to assist and see for himself the horrors colleagues had been describing.  "It's worse than you can imagine," Waiters said.

No arrests were made but an investigation is ongoing into animal abuse and fraud charges against owners Alan and Sheree Napier.

The State Attorney's Office Animal Division offered law enforcement guidance during the raid. Assistant State Attorney Lisa Chittaro will decide if charges will be filed once the investigation is complete.

The couple who run the nonprofit were not on site when investigators arrived. The Napier's were reportedly on vacation but their attorney, Adron Walker, was called to the property by their children who said they were upset the property had been taken over by law enforcement.

"The closure has happened despite every effort on the part of Alan and Sheree to cooperate with all possible governmental agencies that regulate the care of animals," Walker said in statement. "This closure also occurred despite the fact that Alan and Sheree have maintained an open, continuous dialogue with Manatee County Animal Services for years and are typically inspected by Manatee County Animal Services on a quarterly basis."

The Department of Agriculture, Fish and Wildlife Commission and Florida's Division of Worker's Compensation worked with the Manatee County Animal Abuse Coalition in the raid. Several crime scene units and technicians helped process evidence from the property. Technicians and investigators all wore haz-mat suits entering the home.

"You are overwhelmed when you walk into the home with a smell of ammonia," Manatee County Sheriff's Office spokesman Dave Bristow said. "There is just feces everywhere.

Investigators counted more than 200 dogs among the estimated 300 animals removed by the end of the day. Cats, horses, goats, chickens, hogs and geese were also rescued, according to the sheriff's office.

Three veterinarians helped take inventory. Each animal was tagged, numbered, photographed and evaluated by a veterinarian, according to Waiters.

The couple's attorney said as much attention should be paid to the animals in good condition as those in poor health.

"If 10 or 20 animals are found to be in poor health or condition out of the 200 or more animals that Alan and Sheree at any 1 time cared for, that is both regrettable and should be corrected. But do those 10 or 20 justify ignoring the benefits received by the 180 or 190 animals, that 90 percent or 95 percent that are now in good health or condition, but might not otherwise be cared for or alive today?" Walker said. "Then, everyone should ask themselves: Is a 75 percent, 80 percent or 90 percent success rate that bad?"

Animal Services requested help from Nate's Honor Animal Rescue to remove the dogs. Local animal rescue groups, big and small, also offered help in removing and caring for the animals.

Joan Ellis, Second Chance Boxer Rescue Board member, was one of the 1st to arrive to watch the commotion. "I have been hoping for this for a long time, " Ellis said.  Rumors have circulated about the animal rescue group for years, she said.  "Anyone who doesn't have an open-door policy worries me," Ellis said. Returning to take 4 boxers from the premises, Ellis said she was appalled by her 1st glimpse into the facility.  "There was kibble on top of hardened feces," Ellis said. "The smell is pretty horrocious...broken wires, broken boards...piles and piles of rubbish."

Investigators also contacted Whispering Ranches Feed in Myakka City, a feed and animal nutrition store, which brought bales of hay for the horses, said Randy Warren of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.  Later, the horse were transported to Whispering Ranches.  Florida Dachshund Rescue also helped.

"I have to compliment the State Attorney's Office, and all the rescues, for standing behind this and the sheriff's office for doing this today," Florida Dachshund Rescue Board member Colleen Malone said. "We can rest tonight."  Since 2004, Malone said there is documentation of complaints against the nonprofit.  "They were taking money from the public," Malone said.

Law enforcement officials would not detail the nature of the investigation into fraud.

Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said animals were transferred to Napier up until January when it was removed from the list of approved rescue agencies because of the investigation.  "The county transfers animals to the rescues that apply and are approved by Animal Services," Whitmore said. "I'm glad that this happened. I'm glad that he doesn't have any animals anymore, especially when I hear that there has been apparent abuse.  No one deserves abuse no matter whether it's a human or an animal."

Residents and business owners dropped off donations of food and drinks during the day to law enforcement in appreciation of their efforts.  Many who drove past honked, gave thumbs-up signs or cheered the investigation.

Manatee County officials posted a sign deeming the building or property unsafe and use or occupancy prohibited until repairs and inspections are complete.

The Florida Department of Health was called to investigate the conditions at the home.

"The amazing thing is these people were living here," Bristow said.

Update 2/7/14: The attorney for the owners of Napier's Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary released a statement regarding the investigation. The couple's lawyer is urging people not to jump to conclusions.

The statement read in part "a sloppy hoarder does not equate, however, to an animal abuser. Therefore, in the meantime I must implore everyone to keep an open mind." The attorney also talked about the recent graves uncovered on the property.

Investigators found 20 dogs and cats buried at the site but the Napier’s attorney says the public should consider that the animals may have arrived in poor condition or may have simply died due to age -- that it wouldn't be uncommon to bury an animal in someone's backyard.

The full statement is below:
"As the attorney for Alan and Sheree Napier, I must implore the press and the public not to rush to judgment regarding Alan and Sheree. There are many statements being made and some pictures, particularly with regard to the buried animals, being published that, when first heard or seen, can be quite upsetting.

Alan and Sheree have been gone this week, and we are finding them a trial attorney. At that point, their side of the story will be told, and there are always two sides to every story. Further, we already know, and I will admit, that Alan and Sheree and their story will not be perfect – everyone now knows that they were sloppy and hoarded. A sloppy hoarder does not equate, however, to an animal abuser. Therefore, In the meantime, I must implore everyone to keep an open mind. Remember that statements and photographs only document the situation at one moment in time. Please consider the source of a statement – all of us have our biases – some more than others. Also, consider the same fact or photograph can be seen from different perspectives.

Let me provide just 3 among many examples of the effect of different perspectives or lack of content:

1. The first is the fact that some of the press is reporting that the remains of dogs and cats have been found at the Napier sanctuary. The hearing of this fact or the seeing of such pictures is naturally upsetting and disturbing for all of us pet owners. If we think a minute, however, we would remember that (a) unfortunately, dogs and cats have relatively short lifespans, (b) Alan and Sheree took in very sick or unadoptable animals from Manatee County Animal Services and private individuals, whereas most animal rescue organizations do not, (c) Alan and Sheree committed to keeping animals they could not adopt out for their lifetimes, and (d) Alan and Sheree had, at any one time, 200-300 animals. Should it not then be expected, and, in fact, wasn’t it inevitable, that some of these animals would die at the sanctuary? Don’t all of us pet owners have pets buried or their ashes spread in our backyards, or cremated by our veterinarians and disposed of elsewhere? None of us have abused our animals simply by virtue of having buried them.

2. The Manatee Sheriff’s Office has now admitted that it or Manatee County Animal Services has euthanized 12 of Alan’s and Sheree’s rescued animals. Was it because these animals were too ill to be cured, or was it that the cure for these animals was too costly or they were considered too unadoptable to be worth the cure in the County’s mind? Alan and Sheree, however, once told me they paid for medical care without considering whether the treatment was “cost effective” or the animal was adoptable. (Yes, in fact, they do have veterinarians.) While I will not presume to know the answers, two fair questions to ask are: “But for this raid, would those 12 pets be alive today? As to those 12 pets, would they be better off alive today rather than euthanized yesterday?”

3. One report stated that 4 horses with visible ribs were found in a pasture with “only … a scattered pile of dirty hay contaminated with feces to eat.” Having 2 horses myself, I know how quickly horses can spoil their hay and how quickly they can eat their hay. Again, when, in fact, were the horses last fed? How long had they been at Napier’s? What was their condition when they arrived? The horses were in a pasture – did it have grass?

Again, please keep an open mind and do not rush to judgment. The other side to this story has yet to be told."

Additional update: As a result of its ongoing investigation into a Manatee County animal sanctuary, deputies discovered multiple animal graves.

According to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, deputies discovered a total of 20 dead dogs and cats buried in a shallow grave at the back of the Napier’s Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary property.

The search was part of the animal cruelty investigation at the sanctuary.

More than 300 dogs, cats, horses, pigs and other animals were confiscated from the property due to poor health conditions.  Veterinarians were on scene and 12 dogs had to be euthanized.

The investigation involves possible animal cruelty and fraud. No arrests have been made.

  Photo courtesy of Tiffany Tompkins-Condie/Bradenton Herald The Manatee County Sheriff's Office excavates land at Napier's Log Cabin Horse and Animal Rescue

Update 2/8/14: Investigators continued into a second day, at the Napier's Rescue the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office reported.

When investigators returned to the nonprofit at 20010 State Road 64 E. they discovered animal remains buried in a shallow mass grave at the back of the property. “There was a couple areas of disturbed soil so we figured we would start there,” Sgt. Rob Hendrickson of the sheriff’s office said. The remains appeared to have been buried at different times, he said.

About 12 rescued animals had to be euthanized, the sheriff’s office said in a news release.

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Johnson/The Herald-Tribune   A dog of unknown breed and suffering from various ailments enjoys affection from volunteer Merryl Koven at Nate's Honor Animal Rescue

Investigators searched the home again. “We are trying to make sure we didn’t miss anything,” Hendrickson said. “Concern was mostly about the animals, we are looking at details.”

No arrests have been made.  Allan and Sheree Napier could face charges of animal cruelty and fraud once the investigation is complete, according to investigators.

The Napier's also have properties at 4957 Wingate Road and 39760 Ballard Road in Myakka City, according to the Manatee Property Appraiser’s website. Investigators visited the Wingate Road site to determine if there was any animal abuse there. An investigator spoke with family members living on the property, looked at the animals and took pictures.

Four horses kept in a separate pasture next to the home were so thin their rib cages were visible. They only had a scattered pile of dirty hay contaminated with feces to eat.

The last live animal was removed just before 7 pm on February 5th. Patrol deputies stayed at the property all night to secure the crime scene, according to Hendrickson.

Of the animals seized, 63 dogs and 13 cats were taken to Nate’s Honor Animal Rescue where they were doing well.  “Last night all animals were seen,” board member Cam McCarthy stated, “They were vaccinated, groomed and bathed, if necessary, and they were all examined by a veterinarian.”

Five animals required medical attention and were separated from the others, McCarthy said. “Of course, all of them had fleas and ticks. Then we tucked them into kennels making sure they have plenty food and water. We now have our volunteers sitting & socializing with them.”

Some of the animals are being prepared for heartworm treatment. Many need to be spayed or neutered and may require dental work, but those procedures cannot be done until the rescues receive clearance from detectives.

Nate’s Honor exceeded capacity with the large number of rescued animals but they are managing, she said. “Their care is not being sacrificed,” McCarthy said. “We have asked all our volunteers to come in and help.”

A new Animal Coalition Abuse Team was partly responsible for the bust, County Commissioner Carol Whitmore stated.

The task force, formed about 18 months ago, includes a variety of agencies to generate collective clout. Member agencies include the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office; municipalities such as Bradenton, Palmetto and Holmes Beach; animal rescue groups and the State Attorney’s Office, Whitmore said.

“Everybody went in as a team” a citizen complained about the animal abuse that led to the bust, said Whitmore. “Manatee County is not going to tolerate a human being or an animal abused,” said Whitmore. “We’ll put you in jail.”

Concerns about the sanctuary went back a decade.  Roaring pickup truck motors and barking are the only noise on an otherwise quiet stretch of State Road 64.

Farmers use the road — 1 of the few east-to-west corridors in Manatee County — to travel to and from town. An occasional trailer carrying citrus passes by the source of the barking — a 10-acre property surrounded by a fence and overgrown weeds.

Behind the heavy metal gate that spans two wooden columns peeling white paint sits Napier's Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary. The home, like much of the property, is hidden by trees. But they don't block the noise, or the smell.

Napier's Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary was founded in 2004 by Alan and Sheree Napier. Since then, more than 1,600 pets have been adopted from the rescue, according to its website.

“They're living in filth,” Colleen Malone, who serves on the board of directors for Florida Daschund Rescue, said at the scene Wednesday. “Since 2004 we've filed complaints. I don't know why it took so long, but it doesn't matter now. We're just glad this is happening.”

Despite concerns of other rescue organizations, the nonprofit was on Manatee County Animal Services' transfer list, receiving 286 dogs and cats since 2010.

According to a written statement issued by the family's attorney, Adron Walker, the family asked in November to be temporarily removed from the transfer list “so that they could focus on expanding and improving their facilities, caring for the animals they already had, and posting their pictures online.”

Walker stated that the raid was done on a date on which the Napier's had previously informed Animal Services they would be out of town celebrating their wedding anniversary. Their children would care for the animals, they reported.

“Unfortunately, despite Alan's and Sheree's continuous efforts to improve, communicate and cooperate with Manatee County Animal Services, no one from Manatee County would sit down with Alan and Sheree and indicate what the problem was that apparently caused the closure of their Sanctuary,” Walker wrote, adding that the property was typically inspected quarterly by the county.

County officials have not commented on details of their partnership with the organization.

Update 2/9/14: Despite claims by county officials that they previously never found major violations at an East Manatee animal shelter raided this week, county records show animal service officers had found problems at the facility since at least 2011 -- and at the same time the county continued transferring dogs and cats there.

According to Manatee County spokesman Nick Azzara, animal service officers only found "minor violations" during their multiple inspections of Napier's Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary. No citations were ever issued, and officers would work with property owners to address potential violations, he said.  "At no time did the inspections officers notice any evidence of animal abuse or neglect," Azzara said.

The sheriff's office returned to finish looking for evidence at the property and uncovered a shallow grave with the remains of 20 dead dogs and cats.

"Dogs and cats have relatively short life spans, and Alan and Sheree took in very sick or unadoptable animals from Manatee County Animal Services and private individuals, whereas most animal rescue organizations do not," said Adron Walker, attorney for the Napier's.

"Should it not then be expected, and, in fact, wasn't it inevitable, that some of these animals would die at the sanctuary? Don't all of us pet owners have pets buried or their ashes spread in our backyards, or cremated by our veterinarians and disposed of elsewhere?"

Walker states that there are 2 sides to every story but admits his clients were not the best animal care-takers.  "We already know, and I will admit, that Alan and Sheree and their story will not be perfect; everyone now knows now that they were sloppy and hoarded," Walker said. "A sloppy hoarder does not equate, however, to an animal abuser."

Records of transfer of dogs and cats from animal services to animal rescues from January 1, 2007 to February 7, 2014, reveal a total of 135 cats and 151 dogs were transferred to Napier , the sixth highest number of transfers.

On September 8, 2011, an animal services officer was sent out to Napier's sanctuary to inspect the facility and health of the animals after receiving a second call. The first call came on August 31, 2011. The officer met with Alan and Sheree Napier and found a total of 92 dogs, 33 cats, 12 horses and 6 hogs, according to animal services documents.

"The property was partially flooded and they had to move some of the dogs together, making some of the cages overcrowded and not proper shelter for the amount of dogs in the cages," the officer wrote. "The dogs were muddy but seemed to be in good health and happy. They received 30 dogs on August 18th and have had them all shaven and cleaned up."

The following day, animal services transferred 13 cats to Napier and the following week they transferred 4 dogs to them.

On September 21, 2012, 2 animal service officers were sent out to Napier to inspect the condition of the animals. The officers met with the Napier's and saw 91 dogs, 60 cats, 15 horses, 5 pigs and 1 goat on the property.

"All of the animals were in good condition with the exception of 2 dogs that had green mucus in the eyes and 1 horse that was very thin and about 20 years old," one officer reported. "There were also 6 sick cats in a quarantined area being treated for upper respiratory illness."

The other officer reported "that some of the horses are thin but these animals are old and were given to them in this condition."

Four days later, animal services transferred 13 dogs to the animal rescue.

On June 10, 2013, an animal service officer was sent out to Napier's in response to a letter that was sent to county commissioners to inspect the property for violations. The officer met with the couple and counted 112 dogs, 56 cats, 12 horses, 4 hogs and 4 goats at the facility.

"In the past week they have had rain almost everyday and some of the cages were flooded so they had to move some of the dogs and double up the cages to keep the dogs out of the flooded cages," the officer wrote. "The dogs are dirty due to the rain but they have all food or water and shelter provided and are being taken care of."

A couple weeks later, 3 more dogs were transferred to the facility.

Update 2/10/14: Eight horses were seized as an investigation continues into an east Manatee County animal rescue where sheriff's deputies confiscated hundreds of animals last week.

  Photo courtesy of Tiffany Tompkins-Condie/Bradenton Herald  Another dog suffering from various ailments

  Photo courtesy of Tiffany Tompkins-Condie/Bradenton Herald  A dachshund with no teeth in poor health

  Photo courtesy of Tiffany Tompkins-Condie/Bradenton Herald  A horse reaches over barbed wire for grass in a pasture on property owned by Alan and Sheree Napier

No arrests have been made yet, as the case is still under investigation.

Update 2/12/14: As local animal rescue services continue to deal with the overwhelming care needs created by the hundreds of animals seized by law enforcement at an East Manatee shelter, 1 more dog had to be euthanized as a result of a preventable illness after a veterinarian exhausted all treatments. 10 animals remain hospitalized.

"We had to put down a dog because it had very severe heartworm disease and anemia," said Jodi Sorrentino, a Ranch Animal Hospital veterinarian. "It's very sad because it is something that was totally preventable." The cream-colored terrier, affectionately known as "No. 99," did not respond to treatments, including a last-resort blood transfusion. In addition to heartworm, the dog suffered from a severe case of fleas. "It is unusual to see a dog so far gone," Sorrentino said. "No. 99, the dog we put down, that was very heart-breaking."

Among the animals treated at Ranch Animal Hospital, several cats had roundworm and hookworm, which they shouldn't be dealing with, she said. Another dog taken to Ranch Animal Hospital suffers from mange with no hair and sores all over its body. It's very painful, she said.

"Neglect resulted in all of their conditions," Sorrentino said. "This was intentional willful, neglect." All the animals brought to Nate's Honor Animal Rescue were underweight, covered in fleas, dirty with matted fur. "The flea infections were beyond anything I have ever seen," Karen Slomba, Nate's Honor Animal Rescue associate director.

Animals first brought in from Napier's were seen by 2 veterinarians who donated hours of time, Slomba said. Several local veterinarians have come out to help since then. "Eighty percent of these animals have dental disease and are going to need dental work and multiple extractions," Slomba said.

Ranch Animal Hospital personnel are hopeful. "I think we will be able to save all the others that are here," Sorrentino said. "The cats are responding well to basic antibiotics and deworming."

Many animals show signs of trauma, Sorrentino said. "A lot of them are very fearful but none of them have been aggressive. They have been very timid," Sorrentino said. "They don't seem like they have been handled frequently or ever loved."

With all local shelters stretched thin by the treatment crisis, Bradenton's Bishop Animal Shelter announced it will provide up to $25,000 worth of food for animals removed from the Napier properties. "The board members saw how bad it was and said: 'We've got to help these animals,'" said shelter Director Keith Pratt.

The shelter, operated by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Manatee County Inc., also will serve as a dropoff site for food donations.

Bishop shelter workers will not accept any monetary donations, however, Pratt said. Those must be forwarded to the rescue agency for which the money is intended, he said.

Update 2/11/14: Less than a week after the Manatee County Sheriff's Office seized almost 300 animals from Napier Family Farm and Animal Rescue, deputies confiscated 8 more horses on another Napier-owned property in Myakka City. The horses were removed from properties on Ballard Road and on Wingate Road and taken to Whispering Ranches Feed.

"All of them showed signs of distress and neglect of varying degrees," said Dave Bristow, sheriff's spokesman. "There wasn't any hay we could find...It had been grazed on quite a bit. We're thinking that hopefully they're going to be OK."

Bristow said the sheriff's office is getting calls from the public on the Napier's' other properties and continues to investigate. "We wanted to wrap everything up on 1 property, which we did, and today we took a look at another property," Bristow said.

Barbara Grimes, who lives off County Road 675 in Bradenton, said she travels past 1 of the properties twice each day and the horses look dangerously thin.  "There's trash everywhere," she said. "Code enforcement itself should have been alerted about the trash outside."

Mary Lupi, president of Safe Haven Animal Rescue of Florida, said her organization took in 8 dogs after the raid last week. She is fostering a 2-year-old chocolate Lab she named Penny who was close to death. "It had thousands of fleas, no fur on its tail, sores all over its body. It was laying in one of the back pens with its head in its paws," she said.   Lupi rushed her to Braden River Animal Hospital for treatment. "I told her, 'This is your birthday. This is your new start at life. You're going to have a wonderful life after this.'"

Efforts to care for other seized animals continue.  The Beach Market at Coquina Beach is collecting towels, blankets, food and other items, as well as cash donations.

Update 2/13/14: Vowing they "can and will do better in the future," county officials said they plan to conduct an internal audit to evaluate how complaints about animal cruelty at the Napier Family Farm and Animal Rescue have been handled.

The probe will review how Manatee County Animal Services employees dealt with those who operated the East Manatee farm, dating to 2009 or before, said Deputy County Administrator Karen Windon.

"We will be cooperating in every way possible," she told county commissioners during their meeting.

It is not clear which law enforcement agency will handle the investigation.

Peter Lombardo, an attorney for owners Alan and Sheree Napier, said they were allowed back on their property after authorities had concluded use of it as a possible crime scene.

The Napier's said agencies left 2 dogs in a kennel without food or water after the raid. Lombardo said the couple took the dogs with them, and the animals will live.

Dave Bristow, spokesman for the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, said he did not know anything about the dogs or the circumstances to which Lombardo was referring.

A half-dozen members of the public issued scorching critiques at the commission meeting of county animal services personnel, saying they had not done enough to halt animal abuse at the privately owned rescue shelter.

After hundreds of animals were confiscated February 5, 8 more horses were rescued on February 10th from another Napier-owned property in Myakka City. One dog taken from the farm had to be euthanized on February 11th, according to Bristow. "The good thing is, we think the majority of the animals will be saved," he said.

The horses were removed from properties on Ballard Road and on Wingate Road and taken to Whispering Ranches Feed. "All of them showed signs of distress and neglect of varying degrees," said Dave Bristow, sheriff's spokesman. "There wasn't any hay we could find. ... It had been grazed on quite a bit. We're thinking that hopefully they're going to be OK."

Bristow said the sheriff's office is getting calls from the public on the Napier's' other properties and continues to investigate. "We wanted to wrap everything up on one property, which we did, and today we took a look at another property," Bristow said.

Barbara Grimes, who lives off County Road 675 in Bradenton, said she travels past one of the properties twice each day and the horses look dangerously thin. "There's trash everywhere," she said. "Code enforcement itself should have been alerted about the trash outside."

Manatee County officials said on February 7th animal services officers had found "minor violations" on prior visits to the Napier shelter, but never found "any evidence of animal abuse or neglect."

County records show between January 1, 2007, and February 7, 2014 the county transferred 135 cats and 151 dogs to the Napier shelter -- the 6th-highest total among shelters the county uses.

Mary Lupi, president of Safe Haven Animal Rescue of Florida, said her organization took in 8 dogs after the raid. She is fostering a 2-year-old chocolate Lab she named Penny who was close to death. "It had thousands of fleas, no fur on its tail, sores all over its body. It was laying in one of the back pens with its head in its paws," she said. Lupi rushed her to Braden River Animal Hospital for treatment. "I told her, 'This is your birthday. This is your new start at life. You're going to have a wonderful life after this.'"

Efforts to care for other seized animals continue.

At the commission meeting, Betty Kish said she wanted to know whether any county inspections had taken place at the farm. "If they allowed no inspection, there should have been no animals transferred there, and they should have been shut down," said Kish. "If there was an inspection, anyone who did it should be fired. That place didn't get that way overnight."

Nathan Levinson said he faulted Kris Weiskopf, chief of the animal services division. "Your constituents demand answers and actions on all these things," he said.

Lombardo said his clients thought county personnel had done a good job. "Unfortunately, the Napier's got a lot of sick animals," he said. "It's like blaming doctors" when they they are doing their best to treat ill patients, Lombardo said. The Napier's saved a lot of dogs, cats and horses that otherwise would have been put down, Lombardo said.

No arrests have been made, but officials have said the Napier's could face multiple animal cruelty and fraud charges.

The couple will contest confiscation of their animals, and are innocent of wrongdoing, Lombardo said. "It's our position they did nothing wrong," he said.

The horses were removed from properties on Ballard Road and on Wingate Road and taken to Whispering Ranches Feed.

"All of them showed signs of distress and neglect of varying degrees," said Dave Bristow, sheriff's spokesman. "There wasn't any hay we could find. ... It had been grazed on quite a bit. We're thinking that hopefully they're going to be OK."

Bristow said the sheriff's office is getting calls from the public on the Napier's' other properties and continues to investigate.

"We wanted to wrap everything up on one property, which we did, and today we took a look at another property," Bristow said.

No arrests have been made, but owners Alan and Sheree Napier could face multiple animal cruelty and fraud charges.

Barbara Grimes, who lives off County Road 675 in Bradenton, said she travels past 1 of the properties twice each day and the horses look dangerously thin. "There's trash everywhere," she said. "Code enforcement itself should have been alerted about the trash outside."

A multi-agency law enforcement effort led by the Manatee County Sheriff's Office with assistance from Manatee County Animal Services executed a search warrant Wednesday at Napier Family Farm and Animal Rescue, 20010 State Road 64 E., and seized about 300 animals.

Deputies returned to finish looking for evidence and uncovered a shallow grave at the property with the remains of 20 dead dogs and cats.

Manatee County officials said animal services officers had found "minor violations" on prior visits to the Napier shelter, but never found "any evidence of animal abuse or neglect."

Update 2/18/14: A foreclosure sale on property owned by Sheree and Alan Napier was canceled after Sheree Napier filed for bankruptcy, court papers said.

She sought Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection, court records showed. The court file listed a number of other Napier bankruptcy filings, all dismissed, dating to 2001.  The mortgage foreclosure case, filed in 2011, listed a judgment amount of $660,205 in court papers.

The listed plaintiff in the case is Bayview Loan Servicing LLC. Listed defendants are Alan S. and Sheree L. Napier, Napier's Log Cabin Horse & Animal Sanctuary Inc., Bellissimo Properties LLC II and Equitylink Inc.

In other court matters,  Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube filed a petition seeking custody of hundreds of animals seized at the Napier's farm February 5th and on later occasions. A hearing on the petition was set for 1:30 p.m. March 12 at the Manatee County Judicial Center.

The petition states the Napier's "are not able to provide adequately for the animals and/or are not fit to have custody." It asked their rights to be "forever terminated," and all animals be turned over to the sheriff or other rescue organizations.  It also sought an order holding the Napier's responsible for costs incurred in caring for the animals while in the sheriff's custody.

The Napier's' attorney, Peter Lombardo, said he had not yet seen the sheriff's court filing, but added: "It's kind of what I was expecting." "We're obviously objecting to it," Lombardo said. "It wasn't the Napier's idea for the sheriff to take those animals from the Napier's."  "Every animal had access to a vet," he said. "We would say that the Napier's are absolutely able to care for those animals."  Without knowing the condition in which the animals arrived at the Napier's farm: "It's really impossible to be critical," Lombardo said.  The couple are innocent of wrongdoing, Lombardo has previously said.

Property and evidence records accompanying the sheriff's petition listed the type of case as "cruelty to animals."  One page listed 20 decomposed corpses of dogs and cats and 12 "unknown bone fragments."  Other pages listed live horses, dogs, cats, goats, pigs, ducks and chickens.

At Honor Animal Rescue, more than half of the 81 animals taken in from Napier have been placed in foster homes, according to Karen Slomba, associate director.  "They are doing well," Slomba said. "They are slowly but surely recovering."

Several dogs have been discovered to be pregnant, and they suspect some cats are as well. None of the animals have been neutered or spayed however.  "We are not allowed until custody is granted so we just have to keep them separate," Slomba said.

Some animals need continued medical attention as they are suffering from heartworm disease, eye infections and other ailments. Two dogs required emergency surgery.

Much-needed volunteers and donations have continued to come in, she said. "The community continues to be supportive every day," Slomba said.

Update 2/19/14: The sanctuary that closed after a recent raid by authorities has been deemed a “sanitary nuisance” by the Manatee County Health Department.“The Napier's were creating a sanitary nuisance on the property by allowing the accumulation of animal feces, rotting vegetables, and maintaining conditions which represent rodent harborage and fly-breeding,” wrote Tom Larkin, the health department’s environmental health manager, according to county documents.

  Photo courtesy of Tiffany Tompkins-Condie/Bradenton Herald  A horse grazes in a pasture off Wingate Road, 1 of 2 additional properties owned by the Napier's.

The Napier's have 30 days to correct conditions, upon receipt of a letter notifying them of the deficiencies.

The couple plans to oppose a petition filed in court Friday, February 14th by Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube, seeking custody of animals taken from their property on February 5 and on later occasions. No criminal charges have been filed in connection with the case, which is still being investigated, officials said.

A hearing on the petition was set for 1:30 p.m. March 12 at the Manatee County Judicial Center, according to court papers.   The petition states the Napier's"are not able to provide adequately for the animals and/or are not fit to have custody."It asked their rights to be "forever terminated," and all animals be turned over to the sheriff or other rescue organizations.  It also sought an order holding the Napier's responsible for costs incurred in caring for the animals while in the sheriff's custody.

The Napier's attorney, Peter Lombardo, said he had not yet seen the sheriff's court filing, but added: "It's kind of what I was expecting.""We're obviously objecting to it," Lombardo said.

"It wasn't the Napier's idea for the sheriff to take those animals from the Napier's" "Every animal had access to a vet," he said. "We would say that the Napier's are absolutely able to care for those animals."Without knowing the condition in which the animals arrived at the Napier's farm:  "It's really impossible to be critical," Lombardo said.

Property and evidence records accompanying the sheriff's petition listed the type of case as "cruelty to animals.  "One page listed 20 decomposed corpses of dogs and cats and 12 "unknown bone fragments." Other pages listed live horses, dogs, cats, goats, pigs, ducks and chickens.

At Honor Animal Rescue, more than half of the 81 animals taken in from Napier have been placed in foster homes, according to Karen Slomba, associate director."They are doing well," Slomba said. "They are slowly but surely recovering. "Several dogs have been discovered to be pregnant, and they suspect some cats are as well. None of the animals have been neutered or spayed. "We are not allowed until custody is granted so we just have to keep them separate," Slomba said. Some animals need continued medical attention as they are suffering from heartworm disease, eye infections and other ailments. Two dogs required emergency surgery. Much-needed volunteers and donations have continued to come in, she said."The community continues to be supportive every day," Slomba said.

A foreclosure sale on the Napier's property was canceled Tuesday, February 18th after Sheree Napier filed for bankruptcy. Napier sought Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection on Friday, February 14th, court records showed.

The court file listed a number of other Napier bankruptcy filings, all dismissed, dating to 2001. The mortgage foreclosure case, filed in 2011, listed a judgment amount of $660,205 in court papers.The listed plaintiff in the case is Bayview Loan Servicing LLC. Listed defendants are Alan S. and Sheree L. Napier, Napier's Log Cabin Horse & Animal Sanctuary Inc., Bellissimo Properties LLC II and Equitylink Inc.

Update 2/21/14: After their registration as a charitable organization was denied last year, Sheree and Alan Napier reportedly continued to operate their East Manatee animal shelter without it.

The state took no action against them, a state spokesman said.

The couple, continued to list a state registration number on their website, even though it expired more than 8 months ago, according to state officials.   Such certificate allows the holder to purchase tax-exempt items.

It was unclear why the state took no action until last week. In a letter dated February 12th, state regulatory consultant Aleta King wrote the Napier's' effort to reapply for a certificate had been denied.  The state gave the Napier's 7 working days to appeal, according to Aaron Keller, department communications coordinator.  "We denied their application as a Charitable Organization when they reapplied in 2013. We have not issued any fines or taken any action against them," Keller emailed.

The letter to the Napier's stated: "Please be aware that operating as a Charitable Organization without being properly registered/licensed is a violation of ...Florida Statutes."  "Engaging in unregistered/unlicensed activities may subject you to potential penalties, including, but not limited to fines up to $1,000 per violation and possible criminal prosecution," the letter said.

Financial statements showed the Napier's used money meant to care for hundreds of animals on other things, the letter said.  "According to the financial statement submitted for calendar year 2012, of the $105,868 in revenue from direct public support, over $56,000 was utilized for expenses related to 'supplies;' 'printing' related to advertising and promotion; 'occupancy;' and 'insurance,'" said the letter.

King's letter cited the following violations:
• Seeking contributions without being properly registered after May 13, 2013.
• Solicitation for a contribution by means of deception or false pretenses.
• Failure to apply contributions consistent with a solicitation.
• Submitting false, misleading or inaccurate information in documents filed with the department or provided to the public.

Bradenton's Bishop Animal Shelter, for example, uses its charitable registration certificate to buy items such as food for the animals minus the tax, said Keith Pratt, shelter managing director.  "They're taking advantage of the taxpayers, and getting everything tax-free," Pratt said of the Napier's.

The Bishop shelter certificate lists an effective date, expiration date, and defines its exemption category as "501(c)3 organization," according to a copy of the certificate.

It's the responsibility of the shelter operator to ensure they're running legally and the responsibility of store employees to make sure such certificates are updated, Pratt said.

Update 2/25/14: An attorney for the Napier's said they plan to reopen.

Alan and Sheree Napier were on a cruise celebrating their 27th wedding anniversary on February 5th 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 Napier's 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.

During a hearing Michele Hall, general counsel for the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, asked for more time in court during an upcoming hearing slated for March 12th, "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.

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 December 17th, examining more than 100 dogs, Lombardo said.

Sheree Napier has filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, halting a foreclosure sale of property previously set for February 18th. The court set a March 24th 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 Napier's 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 Napier's continued to list a state registration number from the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services on their website, even though it had expired more than 8 months before.   The shelter is still considered a 501(c)3 charitable organization, but can no longer solicit donations on its website, said Lombardo.

The Napier's 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 into 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.


  Photo courtesy of Paul Videla/Bradenton Herald  Horses rescued from Napier's Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary graze in a field at Whispering Ranches Feed in Myakka City. The ranch hosted a Rescue Horse Meet-and-Greet to help raise money for the care and feeding of the horses.

Update 3/2/14: They have been referred to as "The Forgotten 17," but on Saturday they were anything but forgotten.

Seven-year-old Sierra Yeomaris hopes they are never forgotten again.  "It's bad that they were forgotten," Sierra said. "But I think it's good they got saved."

The 17 horses were seized by law enforcement last month as part of an investigation into charges of animal cruelty and fraud at Napier's Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary in East Manatee.

Since the seizure, the horses have been kept on property belonging to Whispering Ranches Feed at 4922 Verna Bethany Road in Myakka City. Already in a little less than a month there, they have gained at least 75 pounds each after arriving at least 300 pounds under weight.

Sierra picked out her favorite horse, the black and white one, she said. It reminded her of her stuffed pony.  With five horses at home, Sierra understood the importance of feeding and caring for them.  "She has to go home and do her barn chores too," mother Roxanne Harmer said.

A few hundred people came out to support "The Forgotten 17" at the fundraiser held at Whispering Ranches Saturday.

There was food, games, silent auctions and most importantly the horses themselves.

Containers were set up along the fence: 17 with individual pictures of the horses and one with a group photo. Those who attended were able to donate to support the horse of their choice.

Raffle tickets were also sold for an opportunity to name one of the horses.

All proceeds from the event will go to feed and care for the horses.

The event was put on in partnership with Sixteen Hands Horse Sanctuary, a nonprofit lifetime sanctuary for unwanted, abused and neglected horses and burros.

Founder Robin Cain was unable to take them in but still wanted to help."My role in it is to take the donations and pay for the expenses."  Cain was thrilled with the turnout.  "It's been phenomenal," Cain said. "People have stepped in to help in anyway they could."

Beth Shuttleworth, owner of Whispering Ranches Feed, was also happy with the support of the community to help care for the horses.  "It takes about two and a half hours twice a day to feed all of them," Shuttleworth said. "It costs $170 a day."

When the horses were seized in early February, after having provided hay for them at the scene, Whispering Ranches also agreed to care for the horses on the property while they remain in the custody of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.

Jocelyn Freed also wanted to make sure the horses would never be forgotten again. She took coins out of her pocket, some of her own savings, and began to drop them one by one in the containers for the individual horses.  "Her mom is very interested in helping and is very involved," grandmother Diane Meckler said. "Jocelyn has been helping animals since she was a very little girl."

Cheryl Kendrick drove all the way from Dover in northeastern Hillsborough County just so she could donate to help support the horses.  "We saw it on Bay News 9," Kendrick said. "We love horses. I admire them for doing this."

Other local animal rescue groups also came out to help raise money for the horses.  Nate's Honor Animal Rescue in Lakewood Ranch took in 82 of the dogs and cats from Napier and was also represented at the event.  "We are here in support of the forgotten horses," said Karen Slomba, Nate's Honor Animal Rescue associate director. "Everything we raise here today we are donating back to the horses."

At their Smooch-a-pooch booth, people could kiss a puppy for a donation.

Pat O'Connor was one of many who came checkbook in hand.   "I understand there is a chance they could get these horses back," O'Connor said. "I would think that would be absolutely awful."

Although no charges have been filed against owners Alan and Sheree Napier, the sheriff's office is seeking permanent custody of the animals seized as it continues its investigation. The couple is going to court March 12 to fight for custody.  "They don't deserve animals," O'Connor said. "They had a chance and they did not step up and do what they were supposed to do."

Update 3/7/14: Below is a list of rescues that took in animals seized

• Canine Castaways     • Cat Depot     • Certified Pre-Owned Dogs     • Ewenity Farms Border Collie Rescue     • Gulf Shore Animal League     • Nate's Honor Animal Rescue

• Lakewood Ranch Humane Society     • Manatee County Animal Services     • Manatee County Humane Society     • Nate's Honor Animal Rescue     • Royal Rescue

• Sarasota County Humane Society     • Safe Haven Animal Rescue of Florida     • Southeast Beagle Rescue     • VIP Rescue     • Underdog Rescue of Florida

• Whispering Ranches Feed

Reference:  The Manatee County Sheriff's Office

Update 3/6/14: A judge has signed ownership of more than 300 animals seized last month to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, clearing the way for them to be adopted, authorities said.

The order was signed after the owners of Napier's Log Cabin Horse Animal Sanctuary, 20010 State Road 64 E., reached an agreement with the sheriff's office.

Under the agreement, the daughter of owners Alan and Sheree Napier will get custody of 2 confiscated horses, the sheriff's office said. The daughter had taken ownership of the horses before the sheriff's office petition.

The remaining animals, which include dogs, cats, horses and pigs, have been placed with shelters. The agreement allows the shelters to begin finding permanent homes for the animals.

Directors at Nate's Honor Animal Rescue in Lakewood Ranch, which took in 82 dogs and cats, said they were relieved at the news.  "It's all very exciting, but the unfortunate thing we have to remember is these animals are not adoption ready," said Karen Slomba, Nate's Honor Animal Rescue associate director. "It's great that they are eligible, but we still have health issues to deal with."   Most animals still need to be spayed and neutered, and many need dental work, she added. "Now we can do that," Slomba said.

Spaying and neutering requires ownership or permission from the animal's owner. About 70 percent of the animals taken from the Napier's to Honor require sterilization, according to Slomba.  "Our policy is that the all animals that leave our facility must be spayed or neutered," Executive Director Dari Oglesby said. "Our animals get neutered at the Humane Society, and they took animals in, too, so it's going to be a while before they can get to ours."

Both directors said they are excited to start the adoption process as soon as possible. "These guys have suffered long enough," Oglesby said. "When they walk out of here, we want them healthy and ready to head to their adoptive homes."

One challenge will be to find enough veterinarians to schedule so many necessary procedures. Additionally, the rescues have stretched shelter resources to the breaking point.

Update 3/9/14: Nearby residents have complained for years about animals that appeared too thin and ill, trash everywhere on the property and the overwhelming numbers of animals. Hillsborough County stopped sending animals there in 2009 after an inspection.

Transfers of animals were done with minimal requirements by state statute, and Manatee County has minimal requirements for qualifying animal rescues as eligible to take its unwanted and abandoned pets.

Records show county officials have received and responded to complaints about Napier's Log Cabin since at least 2009. Despite those complaints, Manatee County Animal Services entered into a cooperative agreement in January 2010 with the Napier"s and then began transferring animals there in April 2010.

That was nearly a year after Hillsborough stopped sending animals to the same facility after a veterinarian complained about the condition of a puppy and a subsequent inspection uncovered inadequate conditions.

Manatee County Animal Services continued to send animals to the Napier"s even after complaints prompted 1 county commissioner to urge a surprise inspection and to make sure the rescue was following the law.

In January 2011, Animal Services officials advised the shelter it would no longer schedule its inspections in advance, and would instead rely on surprise inspections.  And the county continued to send hundreds of animals for placement at the shelter. From April 2012 until January of this year -- a period during which emails and other records show Manatee officials were aware of complaints about the Napier's.  Manatee Animal Services transferred 286 dogs and cats to the facility.

On February 5th, the Manatee County Sheriff's Office and several other agencies, including Manatee County Animal Services, raided the Napier shelter as part of an animal cruelty and fraud investigation. No charges have been filed in the case.

In May 2009, Hillsborough County Animal Services tried to set up an inspection at Napier's after receiving a complaint from a veterinarian about the poor condition of a pup he had treated. A microchip in the puppy traced it back to Hillsborough Animal Services, but their records indicated they had transferred the pup to Napier's.

"I talked to Alan Napier several times to try and make an appointment," investigator Pamela Perry said, "It took 3 to 4 weeks for him to get back to us."

During phone exchanges in which Perry was trying to schedule an inspection with Napier, Perry said she made it clear the shelter would not receive more animals until Hillsborough Animal Services was able to inspect the facility.

Although out of Hillsborough County's jurisdiction, an adoption partnership agreement the Napier's entered in 2008 allowed county officials to investigate any complaints and inspect the facility.

Perry reached out to her counterparts in Manatee in 2009 to request information about their dealings with the Napier's.  "I was told they would get 3 to 4 complaints a year about them," Perry said.

On June 2, 2009, Perry spoke with Alan Napier, who set up an inspection time for the following week.  Upon arrival on June 9th, Perry and another investigator observed more than 200 animals, including more than 80 cats, 70 dogs, chickens, hogs and horses.

The inspection report details findings that include poor sanitation, fresh shavings piled over old feces-laden shavings, strong odors of ammonia/urine and feces, excessive flies surrounding animals and food, puppies in cages with no available water and numerous dogs observed with skin issues. There were no records of veterinary care.

"Having a week to prepare for our inspection there were still numerous shelter, water, food and vet care issues, sanitation issues, matting on small dogs, hair-loss and a general lack of husbandry," Perry stated in the 2009 report.

Alan Napier was immediately told that Hillsborough would no longer send animals to his rescue. She had seen enough, Perry recalled.  "He was appalled and wanted to know why not," Perry said. "He had plenty of time to get ready for us, and if he thought that was ready, it wasn't. It was still not fit conditions."

In October 2009, Hillsborough shared its investigation report with Manatee County Animal Services, which included photos taken during the inspection.  Then-Manatee Public Safety Director Bill Hutchinson, was given a request from Manatee Animal Services Chief Kris Weiskopf to review the photos Hillsborough provided.  "While this inspection was done in June, it still becomes an issue as to how we want to proceed," Weiskopf wrote. "My understanding was that it took quite a while for them to get an 'appointment' from Alan Napier to look at the property."

County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who spearheaded the county's no-kill efforts, was also forwarded the report and photos.  On October 28, 2009, Weiskopf was emailed to say she could not open the photos. Weiskopf, who was out sick, offered to courier the report and photos over to her when he returned.  "Get better, this can all wait," Whitmore replied.

On January 6, 2010, Animal Services Enforcement Supervisor Joel Richmond and Weiskopf conducted an inspection of the Napier's rescue, records show. They found all the animals in good conditions, according to their notes. They observed fresh and clean water and wholesome food as well as kennels and runs to be compliant. The Napier's also presented them with records and veterinarian statements for all the animals at the sanctuary.

Despite Hillsborough's findings, continuous complaints and their exchanges about Napier acknowledging that there were problems, Manatee County Animal Services officials entered into an open-ended agreement on January 29, 2010 to transfer animals to the Napier's.

Ron Koper, who became the county's public safety director 2 years ago, noted Animal Services followed up on Hillsborough's findings.  "Four months later, we took their findings and told Napier we needed to come out," Koper said. "I'm not sure what Hillsborough saw out there, but what we saw was not the same thing."  The time lapse could have allowed the Napier's to correct deficiencies that had been found by Hillsborough, he said.  "I don't know if it was the same, better or worse," Koper said. "But at the time, it didn't violate the statute or ordinance."

State statutes say animals in confinement must be provided with "a sufficient quantity of good and wholesome food and water" and "wholesome exercise and change of air."  "It doesn't get specific to what that means," Koper said. "So if you go out and visit the animals and they have food, water and shelter, then you have to use judgment."  Officers are also faced with deciding what the conditions of the animals were when they were transferred to the rescue and what care and preventive measures are being taken, he said.  "It's difficult when to detect neglect when you can't spot-check," Koper said.

State statutes required only that an animal rescue is an approved nonprofit for the county to contract with them, Manatee shelter manager Nikki Bentley said. When Animal Services contracted with the Napier's, the county required the animal rescue to enter into a cooperative agreement.  The agreement stipulates that the animal rescue upon selection of an animal is responsible for the care, handling and ultimate release for sale or adoption of the animals. That includes following the county ordinance that dictates an animal must be sterilized and vaccinated.

On April 21, 2010, Alan Napier began taking in county animals, receiving a total of 54 cats and dogs by the end of the year.  Koper said that since Manatee County never found any violations, it had no reason not to enter into an agreement with them.  "A complaint about someone that is investigated and unfounded doesn't count against them," Koper said.  There were contributing factors that could have led to animal services giving the facility the benefit of the doubt, he said.  "We have a pet over-population problem," Koper said. "We have identified a goal to be a no-kill county."

That goal of adopting out at least 90 percent of every animal abandoned at the shelter resulted in an aggressive effort to get animals out, he said.  "Different rescue groups take that to different degrees, and people, too," Koper said.

As a result, the department has seen many hoarding situations, where good intentions end badly when people become overwhelmed, he said.  "Not to say there is any excuse for what Napier has done, but that is possible," Koper said.

Records reveal how officials responded to the complaints that continued to come in over the years. While Koper said there were times that transfers were temporarily halted while complaints were investigated, they were always quickly resumed.

On July 13, 2010, Richmond received a complaint from a woman who had gone to the Napier's to adopt a dog and was concerned about the well-being of all the animals there. Alan Napier let her in the gate but not further into the facility. The dog she had expressed interest in over the phone was in a cage on a picnic table out front.

"It wasn't the staging areas that really got me upset, it was that the dog had a severe skin disorder on his entire body, feet and ears," she wrote. "Allen Napier told me that they had a bad outbreak of fleas. Through my experience, I know it was not a flea infestation. He would not let us see the other animals."  The adoption rate of $455 also surprised the woman, who left unhappy and without the dog.

Richmond forwarded her complaint to Weiskopf with a note: "Just another example of a Napier complaint."

A September 7, 2012 email to Richmond from Karen Mayer, Director of Operations at Nate's Honor Animal Rescue, complained about receiving another animal in poor condition from Napier. The puppy was anemic, covered in fleas and underweight.   "I know you are trying very hard, and I will call the state and file a complaint as you suggested. But I have to say that I am disappointed that the county still transfers animals out to him," Mayer wrote. "You told me yourself he knows how to work around the system, and transferring animals to him is condoning his behavior and treatment of these animals."

Two weeks later, on September 21, 2012, Animal Services investigated and determined the complaint was unfounded. Problems cited in the county's reports were 2 dogs with green mucus in their eyes, a 20-year-old horse that was too thin and 6 cats that were quarantined for upper respiratory illnesses.

In the week that followed that inspection, Napier received 13 more animals from Manatee Animal Services.

On June 20, 2013, Whitmore responded to an email with documents she had requested about Napier from Richmond.  "He is constant in the complaints ... Are we ok with this?" Whitmore asked.

Richmond replied, "If you look at the number of animals he has and moves, the number of complaints are very small comparatively," Richmond wrote. "Most of the complaints we receive are not valid and are 2nd hand from people who have no witness or testimony."  He then assured her they would continue to respond to complaints.

On July 22, 2013, Whitmore emailed Richmond again.  "This guy is about done!! I am so sick of getting serious complaints about his treatment of animals," she wrote. "Can someone go to his place on a cold call and if he is breaking any of our laws, can we do something?"

Between July 25 and July 27 however, Napier received another 10 dogs from Manatee County.

Manatee County's animal services officials said that despite the many complaints leading up to the raid, state statute and county ordinances limit their oversight of animal rescues such as the Napier's.  "I think we were limited by the vagueness of the statute and the ordinance of how a sanctuary is required to maintain its property," Koper said.

There is nothing that requires the county to transfer animals to all rescues. The county approves which rescues it contracts with.  The law does not specify how many animals a rescue can have in general or the ratio of employees and volunteers to animals within the shelter. It also does not specify adoption fees for rescues or mandate the proper level of veterinary care.  "That in a way did restrict our hands," Koper said.

Complaints were generally about a specific animal, he said. When animal services did inspections, they would find only minor deficiencies that would be corrected on the spot or soon thereafter, he said.  "We needed a mechanism to do a spot inspection without a warning," Koper said. "And the only way to do that was with a warrant. And to do that, law enforcement needs to go to a judge with probable cause. A complaint is not probable cause."  Ultimately, though, the complaints proved founded.

"Finally, when we were able to get a warrant, we were able to find what we suspected for quite a bit of time," Koper said.  Whitmore said no one ever came to her to say that changes needed to be made to county policy.  "I set policy, I don't run any departments," Whitmore said.  Now she is awaiting the results of an internal audit of Animals Services by the Manatee County Clerk and Comptroller.  "I am not sure with this investigation and internal audit what will be found, but if there are changes that need to be made and administration will make sure it's made," Whitmore said.


  Photo courtesy of Grant Jefferies/Bradenton Herald Adam Lamb, chief of Animal Care and Medical Services at the SPCA Florida, sorts through the paperwork for 14 dogs, 3 of which were on a kill list, before transporting them from Manatee County Animal Services to an adoption facility in Lakeland.

Update 3/25/14: Anne Forrest of Bradenton clasped her hands in prayer moments after arriving at Manatee County Animal Services Monday in Palmetto.  She was determined none of the 11 dogs at risk to be put down would be killed.  She left ecstatic.

All 11 dogs listed to be euthanized due to lack of space in Manatee County Animal Services kennels are now safe, said Joel Richmond, Manatee County Animal Services supervisor.  Eight were adopted, Richmond said. Three remained.

Florida's SPCA from Lakeland took the final 3 named Mrs. Riley, Taylor and Sprinkles.  The Florida SPCA in Lakeland ended up taking 14 dogs to create some additional kennel space.

"I couldn't sleep last night," said Forrest, chief executive officer of The Arthritis Foundation, Florida Chapter. "I had to come. I am so relieved." Forrest lost 3 of her own dogs last year to old-age ailments. They were all 14 and over.

     

      

Conditions of the Napier's  Log Cabin Horse & Animal Sanctuary on 6/9/09
Photos provided by Hillsborough County Animal Services

Update 3/13/14: An early February raid of an east Manatee County animal shelter has advocates concerned about shortcomings in policies and procedures within Animal Services.

Questions were raised during an Animal Services Advisory Board meeting regarding the seizure of more than 300 animals housed at Napier 's Log Cabin and Animal Sanctuary.

Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen, who serves on the advisory board, said she spoke with workers at area rescues who took some of the animals found at Napier 's. Most of the animals had parasites and fleas. Many had not been spayed or neutered. And some had more serious medical problems.

"I am so troubled by the discrepancy by what we heard about Napier's at this board and what was found," Peelen said.  Peelen said Animal Services previously reported that Napier's was "iffy, a little weird," but that there were no violations.  "They found horrendous circumstances," she said, referring to the raid.

Rescue workers and law enforcement agents said animals were caked in their own feces and that the wooden floors inside the Napier home were "spongy" with urine.

Peelen moved that the advisory board agree to draft a statement to present to the County Commission regarding the situation. Members agreed unanimously. That draft will be reviewed at a special meeting before being taken to a County Commission meeting.

Committee members asked whether Animal Services officers have the ability to search anywhere animals are housed when conducting inspections at partner facilities.   If a shelter operator refuses, shouldn't that raise a red flag, Peelen asked.  Kris Weiskopf, director of animal services, shrugged.  "There's nothing to say yes or no either way," he said.

Weiskopf added that they are working on a contract that would require partners to allow unannounced, thorough inspections at partner facilities.

Rebecca Neal, board member and president of the Humane Society of Manatee County, said she worries that the Napier's fiasco could cause problems for the no-kill initiative adopted by the County Commission in 2011.  "If the board decided to get rid of the no-kill policy, then we're taking a giant step backwards and that concerns me," Neal said. "Our mission is to create a no-kill community. We would be doing a disservice to sit in silence."

The no-kill policy relied on Animal Services forming partnerships with shelters willing to take animals to prevent euthanasia fueled by over-crowding. Since the initiative was adopted, Animal Services now boasts a save rate of 90 percent.

Neal fears that the county and citizens will believe that to meet that no-kill quota, Animal Services sent animals to a filthy facility. She said that is not the case, but that it does put the no-kill initiative in a bad light.  "I don't want people to say they just wanted them out," Neal said. "I don't want no-kill to become a casualty as well."

During public comment, Audrey Garrison, president of Gulf Shore Animal League, echoed that concern. She said Napier's Log Cabin and Animal Rescue was partners with Animal Services before no-kill went into effect and that the shelter took "small, highly adoptable" dogs and cats that would have likely been taken by other rescues.

Most of the animals taken from Napier's property are ready for adoption at area rescues.

The Manatee County Clerk of Courts internal audit team is looking into procedures at Animals Services, including how complaints and animals are processed.  The next Animal Services Advisory Board meeting is scheduled for April 3rd.

Update 4/17/14: Alan and Sheree were arrested on 29 counts of animal cruelty, according to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, with other charges pending.

Alan Napier, age 51, was charged with 15 counts of animal cruelty and 1 count of fraud. Sheree Napier, age 45, was charged with 14 counts of animal cruelty.  "The animal cruelty charges involved 9 dogs, 5 horses and 1 cat," the sheriff's office said in a news release. The couple was arrested at their home, according to the report. Bonds was set at $21,000 for Sheree Napier and $24,000 for Alan Napier . They are in the Manatee County jail.

The sanctuary had been under investigation by the sheriff's office since December 9th when investigators received an anonymous tip.

After the arrest, the sanctuary looked desolate except for a few vehicles parked out front. As strong winds shook the trees beyond the closed iron gate, an entrance sign still beckoned people to visit the sanctuary website for animal adoptions. An orange "danger" sign placed after the raid by the Manatee County Building Department was gone.  A large dog of undetermined breed later emerged, sitting alertly by the front of the sanctuary.

"We still have some more investigating to do," Manatee County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Rob Hendrickson said. "There are still more charges pending."

Manatee County Animal Services has also been scrutinized since the raid for allowing animals to be transferred to the Napier's for years despite rumors and complaints about mistreatment.

Deputies observed that the Napier's had made efforts to fix problems at their property since February.  "We will say that the conditions were better," Bristow said. "They cleaned everything up."

Update 4/18/14: "He's been allowed to get away with an awful lot -- why?" asks animal activist Deborah Bird who's referring to the recently updated website for Alan Napier's Animal Sanctuary which shows it appears to be open for business under a new name Napier's Family Farm and Animal Rescue.

"Animals on the website do not look in good condition. One is heartworm positive with dry eye and is obviously a breeder dog. The Pomeranian looks very sick too."

"He needs to be in jail," says Bird.  "It's up to us not to let him start up again," says Bird.

Napier has spent the last couple of months cleaning up the property.

Napier's new website, http://www.napierfamilyfarm.com explains he takes in homeless animals that would be put down to assist with the county's mission to be a "No-Kill" community. He lists the number of animals Manatee Animal Services has transferred to him since 2010 -- 286 total -- and how many animals he's helped find homes, including 14 so far this year. But there's no mention of the raid.

Bird says Alan Napier's arrest along with his wife Sheree is in memory of the animals.  "So many new nothing but suffering," says Bird.

    
Mug shot for Alan and Sheree Napier. Photo's courtesy of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office

Update 4/19/14: A veterinarian used by an East Manatee shelter under investigation for animal cruelty and fraud was arrested on related charges.

Photo courtesy of WTSP Edward Dunham, a licensed veterinarian, was arrested at about at his home in Palmetto and charged with 1 count of aggravated animal cruelty, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.

Dunham, 76, is listed as the director of veterinary medicine at Napier’s Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary, according to Florida corporation documents.

On December 22nd, Dunham performed a spay and hernia repair surgery on a dog, named Noel, from the Napier rescue, according to his arrest report. His records indicated that he only used Ketamine, an anesthetic that is only acceptable for cats during minor, brief surgical procedures or diagnostics according to Plumbs Veterinary Drug Handbook, the report said.

“Ketamine for use in dogs is to be combined with a sedative or anesthetic as Ketamine in itself provides little or no pain management,” an investigator wrote. “Ketamine strictly immobilizes the patient and induces a state of amnesia.”

The dog endured excessive, unnecessary pain and suffering during the procedures according to records and Dunham’s testimony, the report said.

Dunham remained in custody at the Manatee County jail on $1,500 bond, according to the sheriff’s website.

At their first court hearing, Judge Charles Roberts ordered the Napier's to have no contact with any animals and any of the potential witnesses in the case against them.

Roberts denied Assistant State Attorney Lisa Chittaro’s request the couple be held for a Nebbia hearing, to determine if any of the money that could be used for bond was illegitimately acquired, such as profit from any related charges or crimes.

In the courtroom on behalf of the couple was defense attorney Michael Perry.

Sheree Napier bonded out on bonds totaling $21,000. Alan Napier bonded out on bonds totaling $24,000.

The investigation is ongoing, and the couple could face additional charges.

Update 4/20/14: News of the couple's arrest spread through the animal welfare community.

"We are pleased to see our justice system at work," Karen Slomba, associate director at Nate's Honor Animal Rescue. "We have had people who have called concerned."  Many of the callers said that the Napier's currently have animals posted for adoption, she said. "We directed those calls to the sheriff's office," Slomba said. "There seems to be a public outcry about what is posted on the website."

Cam McCarthy, a board member with Nate's Honor, said she has seen animals the Napier's still have listed for adoption on Petango.com. "If they're on Petango it generally means they are active," McCarthy said. "The dogs that were confiscated are not on the website, so that means these are new animals."

Currently Petango.com has 3 dogs and 3 cats listed for adoption at Napier's. Emails to the website have not been answered.

For the years she has worked with Nate's Honor, McCarthy said there have been concerns in the community about the Napier's. "I was elated to find out that the arrests finally came," McCarthy said.  She recalls the days after the raid when many of the animals were brought into Nate's Honor in horrible condition.  "Some are doing great now and some are not," McCarthy said. "The biggest issue we are seeing with them is some of them don't trust humans."

Update 5/12/14: As complaints over Manatee shelter mounted, county continued to send dogs and cats there.  Email inboxes filled with complaints -- sick animals, lethargic animals, flea-covered animals, underweight animals, animals with skin disorders.

There were about 20 complaints referencing Napier's Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary sent from 2010 through 2013 to Manatee County officials. The number of complaints fielded over the phone or in person likely adds to those written and archived.

Despite those complaints and inspections documenting less-than-ideal conditions, Manatee County Animal Services sent 286 dogs and cats to the East Manatee shelter during that time.

"You try to imagine it in your head, but you go back and see it, and it's worse than you could ever imagine."  'Conditions are average'

The scene that greeted those involved in the raid was horrific. The smell of ammonia was overwhelming. Food was scattered over dried-up feces. Cages were infested with fleas. Wood floors inside the home were soaked with urine.

But those conditions did not manifest overnight. And it's unlikely they arose only after December 17th, 2013 -- the date of the last known inspection completed by Animal Services, when an officer noted that all the animals had food, water and shelter and that the Napier's were planning projects to improve the shelter.

"All though the conditions are not the best here at Napier's, they do fall under the county and state requirements," the officer wrote.

Jean Peelen, Holmes Beach commissioner and member of the Manatee County Animal Services Advisory Board, has expressed concern that personnel were not accurately describing the facility. "Conditions don't deteriorate like that in less than 2 months," Peelen said.

A review of inspections dating back to 2010, when the transfer partnership began, shows a history of dirty conditions, flooded cages, sick-looking animals and roach infestations.  "I find no major problems out here; it is a little dirty, but no more than expected," an officer wrote in an inspection report from January 26th, 2011.

A similar report was made more than years later.  "Food bowls were infested with German roaches," an officer wrote on July 26th, 2013. "At this time ASO believes that conditions are average for this type of rescue facility."

Despite officials telling complainants that Napier's was subject to surprise inspections, few walk-throughs were completed on the first attempt. In most cases, officers went to Napier's to find the gate locked and no one home, records show. They would leave a notice and wait for the Napier's to call to set up an appointment up to a week later.

Hillsborough County stopped transferring animals to Napier's in June 2009 when an inspector observed inadequate living conditions: "poor sanitation, fresh shavings laid over old feces laid over shavings, strong odor of ammonia/urine and feces, excessive flies."

The inspector noted that she spoke with Alan Napier on June 2, 2009, to set up the inspection for the following week. "Appeared that the amount of animals currently on property was overwhelming even for a crew of people to take care of adequately," the officer wrote. "Having a week to prepare for our inspections, there were still numerous shelter, water, food and vet care issues."

That inspection report and photos were sent to Manatee County Animal Services in October 2009, 3 months before they began transferring animals to Napier's.

While some of the inspections at Napier's were routine, many were spurred by complaints from other rescues, neighbors and potential adopters who visited the sanctuary.

On July 12th, 2010, Yvette Biggs emailed Animal Services with concerns she had about Napier's. A week earlier, she had gone there to look at a 9-month-old Chihuahua. When Alan Napier opened the gate, Biggs said that the dog was right inside the property, sitting in a cage on top of a picnic table. Biggs wrote that she had expected to meet in an office, especially since it was raining, and thought she might get to see other dogs on the property.  She also said she felt the $455 adoption fee was a bit costly.  "It wasn't the staging area that really got me upset," she continued. "It was that the dog had a severe skin disorder on his entire body, feet and ears. The dog's nails and ears were also dirty."

Alan Napier apparently explained that the skin condition was the result of a recent flea outbreak. But her brother and sister-in-law had adopted a dog from the same place 8 months earlier.  "The dog also had a skin disorder, which I find very odd considering the length of time," Biggs wrote.  Concerned by the dogs' health, Biggs asked Animal Services to launch an investigation into Napier's.

The following day, Animal Services Officer Joel Richmond forwarded her email to director Kris Weiskopf with the note: "Just another example of a Napier complaint."

Animal Services briefly suspended transfers to Napier's in December 2012, when Richmond learned that " Napier's lawyer has reached out to some of the big groups about taking some of the animals from him as he has gotten overwhelmed," an email states. Two months later, 4 animals were transferred to Napier's.

In an email complaint dated January 18th, 2013, another Napier's visitor wrote that she adopted a puppy a few weeks earlier.  When she first saw the dog, she said it was "covered in feces and urine."  Her family ended up paying about $500 for the Dachshund puppy, then several hundreds more in veterinary bills for treatment of mange and parasites.  "We couldn't morally leave the dogs in that situation," said the woman, who asked that her name not be used.

At one point in July 2013, County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who fielded numerous complaints over several years, sent an email to Richmond expressing her frustration.  "This guy is about done!!  I am so sick of getting serious complaints about his treatment of animals," Whitmore wrote. "Can someone go to his place on a cold call and if he is breaking any of our laws, can we do something?"

The Manatee County Sheriff's Office launched a criminal investigation late last year -- but only after an angry citizen bypassed the usual channels and went straight to Assistant State Attorney Lisa Chittaro, who prosecutes animal cruelty cases.   "It involved a group of concerned citizens, some Facebook images of some emaciated horses and some upset neighbors," the citizen, Cheryl Eason, said. "They all knew something needed to be done, and MCAS would not help after numerous complaints.   "The neighbors were getting nowhere with Animal Services, and they reached out for help, and this is where I got involved," Eason said. She contacted Chittaro, who put her in touch with the sheriff's office.

By February, detectives had gained enough probable cause to obtain a search warrant for the property. 

Though no officials from Animal Services will confirm that animals were being transferred to Napier's to maintain a no-kill rate of about 90 percent, the question has been raised.  "That's very clear that they were trying to make their numbers by giving their dogs to Napier's," said Peelen, the Manatee County Animal Services Advisory Board member. "That just disgusts me."

Manatee County adopted the no-kill resolution in 2011. The next year, the number of dogs transferred to Napier's more than doubled. That same pattern was seen in 2013, until Manatee County stopped transferring animals there in November.

"That (no-kill) number means nothing unless the animals are treated humanely and taken care of," Whitmore said. "My goal in this whole thing was to save more animals. I would never do anything to jeopardize any animals to reach that number, and I wouldn't tolerate if anybody did."

When asked if any staff members ever mentioned that the no-kill initiative caused too much pressure or negative compromises, Whitmore said: "If it did it never came to my office."

Update 5/18/14: The Manatee County Animal Services Advisory Board came to a troubling conclusion about Manatee County Animal Services, disclosing publicly last week that the board had not been informed about the squalid conditions at Napier 's Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary and indeed were misled by officials.

An anonymous complaint -- not 1 from Manatee County Animal Services -- launched an investigation on December 9th. Two months later, the Manatee County Sheriff's Office led a multi-agency law enforcement raid on the East Manatee facility, rescuing more than 300 animals from horrible conditions.

At the advisory board meeting, Jean Peelen read some disconcerting statements from the panel's letter to county commissioners. The most damaging: "We base our recommendations largely on information provided to us by Animal Services. Unfortunately, regarding Napier's refuge, the information that we got from Animal Services was far from reliable. It was misleading."

Last month, county commissioners reaffirmed the support for Manatee's No Kill policy adopted in 2011. This Editorial Board has been a strong proponent for the program, the first of its kind in Florida.

Animal Services transfers dogs, cats and other animals out of the county shelter to rescue organizations to prevent euthanasia and get pets back into the community.

As of last month, the save rate stood at 93 percent, above the national No Kill movement's goal of 90 percent. When commissioners joined the movement, the live release rate was only 61 percent in Manatee.

But the Napier scandal prompts a fundamental question: Is Manatee County overzealous in pursuit of No Kill's high animal release and adoption rate?

And is that why Animal Services continued to release animals to the Napier's after 3 years of citizen complaints? How could county inspections only find"minor violations" unworthy of citations?

Just a month before the anonymous complaint prompted law enforcement action, county officials reassured the Animal Services Advisory Board. "We were told as recently as November 2013 that Napier was borderline, but OK," the panel's letter reads.

The disturbing and inhumane conditions found there during the raid could not have developed so quickly. Furthermore, "Quite a number of people onsite with the raid have said that no one could have walked 10 feet onto the property without smelling the horrible smell of decay, sickness and animal waste," Peelen read from the letter.  All this casts a very poor light on Animal Services.

Within a few days of the February raid, the county administration pledged to conduct an internal audit to evaluate the performance of Animal Services in dealing with the animal cruelty complaints lodged against the Napier's. That audit was suspended a few weeks ago at the request of the MCSO while the office conducts its investigation into the Napier case.

Regardless, county policies on Animal Services must be tightened to prevent lax oversight of private rescue organizations that accept county shelter animals. Plus, detailed inspection reports with images should be available to the advisory board and the public. The agency must be held accountable.

Update 5/21/14: The Manatee County administrator announced an outside firm will evaluate Manatee County Animal Services in the wake of concerns raised by the investigation into allegations of animal cruelty at an East Manatee County animal rescue.

County Administrator Ed Hunzeker made his announcement at the conclusion of the Manatee County Board of Commissioners meeting.

The Manatee County Commission received a letter from the Animal Services Advisory Board stating it felt misled by information received from Animal Services officials regarding the Napier operation.

Commissioner Michael Gallen pushed for action from the board. "It is my opinion that the trust in Animal Services is in question in the community," Gallen said.

Gallen asked if there was not enough evidence already to take action against Animal Service employees even without findings from the criminal investigation.  "Isn't there enough out there for an administrative leave?" Gallen asked. "I felt like we should do something in the meantime with the individuals who were directing or advising the Advisory Board."

Hunzeker proposed a different approach.  "We are committed to constantly and consistently improving our operations and we would be in short order contracting with an independent outside firm to evaluate all policies, procedures, protocols, practices, staffing plan, facilities and report back to the board when we have facts," Hunzeker said. "There is a lot of chatter out there in the world of social media and even in the letter you received from the Animal Services Advisory Board that is willfully short of facts." Hunzeker cautioned the board not to jump to conclusions. "We have in this country a presumption of innocence," Hunzeker said. "We will deal with it once we have facts."     Hunzeker promised a plan for action would be included when the outside audit is made public.

Some board members said they were concerned by Animal Services emailing updated agreement documents to animal rescue groups.  The email said rescue partners "would refrain from negative comments or posts on any online or social media platforms" regarding the Manatee County Animal Services operations. Some rescue organizations, outraged by the MCAS demand, threatened to stop taking animals from the county shelter.

Commissioners were upset, too. "That's what floored me was that the policy was changed and we weren't informed," Gallen said. Public Safety Director Ron Koper acknowledged the line added to the updated agreement caused a social media uproar. Still, he asked rescue groups to refrain from bashing Animal Services.  "We should as business partners be respectful of each other," Koper said. "It can be removed. At this point it is a proposed change."

Commissioner Vanessa Baugh directed Koper to remove that specific line about not commenting on MCAS operations. "The bottom line is this has been a big black eye for our county," Baugh said. "Before anything else is sent out to the public, meet with your commissioners and get your advisory board involved, because that's their job. We want to help but we can't help if we don't know."

Update 6/5/14: The owners of a troubled animal sanctuary are facing more criminal charges. The State Attorney's Office has added animal cruelty charges to include 77 more dogs, 1 cat and 5 horses, bringing the charges to a total of 99.

Alan and Sheree Napier are also each charged with one count of scheming to defraud. Sheree is also facing one count of solicitation, while Alan faces two charges of solicitation.

Photo's courtesy of WTSP TV 10 of horses from the Napier's being rehabilitated at Whispering Ranch Feed.

The charges are connected to their work as a not-for-profit animal rescue. The fraud charge follows a state audit that showed misuse of donations; money did not go to animals 100 percent. The solicitation charges stem from the fact their certificate as a non-profit expired for about six months and during that time, they allegedly solicited donations. The state denied their renewal in mid-February, two weeks after their initial arrests.

Both of the Napier's have since bonded out of jail.

Also a trial date has been set for the veterinarian for Napier's Animal Sanctuary. Edward Dunham will stand trial in October. Investigators say he did not follow proper protocol while performing surgery on a dog.

Update 8/4/14: The Manatee County Animal Services will have no criminal charges filed as a result of what happened at Napier Animal Sanctuary earlier this year. The investigation by the Manatee County Sheriff's Office into the Napier animal abuse case also looked into the role of Manatee County Animal Services (MCAS). You can read the Sheriff's report at Napier, Animal Services Investigation

During their investigation, they discovered some of the complaints filed against Napier Animal Sanctuary were not followed up in a timely manner by MCAS if at all. The sheriff's office report shows out of the 39 complaints MCAS received between 2007-2013, 24 of those complaints were never investigated.
Between 2007-2014, Napier received 135 cats and 151 dogs. During that time, MCAS received 39 complaints against Napier, 20 by email and 19 were documented on an Animal Services activity card.

Photo courtesy of WTSP TV 10

Of the 20 complaints via email, 16 did not result in an MCAS officer responding to the complaint or the Napier property. Eleven of the 19 other complaints written up on an activity card were responded to by a MCAS officer. In some cases, it took officers up to eight days to follow up on a complaint when the gate to the Napier's property was closed during their initial visit.

Photo's courtesy of WTSP TV 10

However, based on the evidence, the sheriff's office says the burden of probable cause has not been reached to file criminal charges against any one individual at MCAS for official misconduct of neglect, malfeasance or misfeasance. Even though no one has been charged, county commissioners can still decide on any disciplinary charges as a result of the report.

Ron Koper, Manatee County's director of public safety, which oversees MCAS says while he is relieved no one will face criminal charges he is troubled by the findings. "What troubled me is there were so many complaints over a seven-year period. Thirty-nine is a lot. I hope we have not been neglectful in our administrative duty to take note of that number alone there likely should have been controls in place." Manatee County has hired a consultant to review Animal Services' practices. The consultant begins the 12-week review on August 18th..
The Napier's will go to trial on Oct. 20. Alan Napier also faces charges for fraud. The couple have also been charged with unlawful solicitation of funds and scheme to defraud

Update 12/16/14: Sweeping changes are called for Manatee County Animal Services. County commissioners receive a "to do list" to improve conditions at its animal shelter that's been plagued with problems over the years from overcrowding to low staffing. Crowded kennels cats with little room to roam seems to be the norm at Manatee County Animal Services. "We're constantly in crisis mode," says Bill Hutchison, interim director for MCAS. Despite a special on adoptions this weekend where 67 animals found forever homes, the shelter's numbers are at capacity.
"We get full just like that," says Hutchinson. "One hoarder pops up in the county, one Napier, we're back in crisis mode."

In the case of the Napier's, deputies rescued 300 dogs, cats, and farm animals from their home in February 2014. "It's really critical we develop a new facility that has the room we need to accommodate the level of services we need here in Manatee County," says Hutchinson.

A larger facility is the top recommendation Manatee County commissioners heard out of a study on how to improve the publicly-criticized shelter fueled by the Napier case. "Now starts the heavy lifting," says Hutchison. Other recommendations include: more staff and volunteers, more training, a full-time veterinarian on site and a stronger agreement with pet rescues requiring pre-approval and regular inspections. The study also calls for improving the shelter's foster care system and pet retention. One suggestion is to provide new pet owners a handbook with resources.
The report says the shelter needs to find a new director that's compassionate and understands the workings of a center trying to become a No Kill Shelter.

The county runs the shelter, but the study says the county should enter into a public-private partnership with a non-profit group experienced with No Kill shelters. It's a list animal activists say commissioners have heard before. "The fact is everything you said that's in the report we've been saying for three years," one animal activist tells commissioners. The study cost taxpayers $50,000, money activists say could have gone to improving conditions at the shelter.

It's a good list say commissioners, but it comes down to one thing. "Big part of it is cost," says Commissioner Larry Bustle. Commissioners say it will take time to make all of these changes. They will discuss the list of recommendations at a workshop earl next year.

Manatee County Animal Services extends its adoption special another week. Adoptions fees are $20 for either dog or cat and $15 fee for license and registration. New hours of operation of adoptions are: Monday through Thursday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
On adoption, pets receive a checkup, are spayed or neutered, vaccinated and micro-chipped. Each adoption also comes with 30-day risk-free pet insurance. For more information, call Animal Services at (941) 742-5933.

Update 1/25/15: Edward Dunham, the licensed veterinarian listed as the director of veterinary medicine at Napier's, was also charged in the case, but will not go to trial after entering into a pre-trial diversion contract. If he completes all the requirements during his 12 months of supervision, the state will drop the charges against him. Dunham, charged with one count of aggravated animal cruelty, was forced to surrender all his licenses to practice veterinarian medicine.

The State Attorney's Office offered Dunham pre-trial diversion after consulting with law enforcement, Franzen said.

Update 1/27/15: Nearly a year to the day after Manatee County Sheriff's deputies removed more than 300 dogs, cats and horses from an animal sanctuary, the owners go on trial for animal abuse and fraud.

The state warned a six-member jury of what Manatee County Sheriff deputies found the day they entered the Napier's animal sanctuary on February 5th, 2014.

"The veterinarian could tell the dog was positive for tapeworms in an external examination because they were coming out of its body," state prosecutor Garrett Franzen said to the jury. Franzen then told the jury of another dog, "You'll will see a dog with an open wound on its body, underweight, and covered in flees -- suffering."

The jury first heard from state witness Major Connie Shingledecker. "The dogs were in bad shape," she said. Shingledecker narrated an hour-long video of what she and deputies found when they entered Napier's' home wearing haz-mat suits -- getting emotional at times.
Shingledecker's recalled the smell as an, "overpowering smell of ammonia, extremely strong, and feces."

The video showed filth, trash, clutter and roach infestations. Deputies found 26 dogs inside the home and multiple animals stacked in wire cages. "There was no water inside bowls in the crates. They were bone dry," Shingledecker said. Dozens of cats were found outside in pens and there were horses. "They were very thin, their hips sticking out," says Shingledecker.

Photo's courtesy of WTSP TV 10

The Napier's have also been charged with fraud, using money meant for the animals. "You'll hear about thousands of dollars on personal purchases spent on cruise vacations," said Franzen.

Alan Napier's attorney waived opening statements, but Sheree Napier's attorney, public defender Jennifer Joynt-Sanchez, spoke to the jury. "Sheree Napier loves animals. It was her dream to open a place to save dogs from being euthanized." Joynt-Sanchez said Sheree saved hundreds of dogs, but the state argued many were neglected -- even died. "They were taking people's money, not doing what they said they would do, and ultimately the victims were the animals that suffered on that property," Franzen argued.

The trial is expected to last into next week.

Update 1/31/15: Day four of the Napier animal cruelty trial

A state official testified Friday that Alan and Sheree Napier were not registered as a charity for eight months before their animal shelter was raided, although they accepted donations during that time period. Alan Napier, 52, and Sheree Napier, 46, each face one count of scheming to defraud; one of soliciting to defraud; 10 counts of aggravated animal cruelty; and one count of animal cruelty. If convicted, the Napier's face a minimum of three years in prison up to 85 years. They currently are free on bond.

Amy Topol, the assistant director at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, testified, saying the Napier's' status as a charity expired in July 2013 when they did not renew it. That means they could not legally solicit contributions during that time period. Alan Napier tried to renew it in January 2014, Topol said, and the request was pending when the Napier's Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary on State Road 64 East was raided by law enforcement on February 5th, 2014. The renewal request was denied after the raid. State officials cited the couple for seeking contributions while they were not registered and soliciting contributions under false pretenses as reasons for the denial.

Nicki Rae Madalina, a resident of St. Petersburg and a frequent donor to the Napier's, testified after Topol. She said she had made two donations of $25 to the Napier's between July 2013 and January 2014, when they were not registered as a charity. "Would you have donated to the Napier's if you knew these animals were purchased from shelters for resale?" Brian Iten, a prosecutor in the case, asked Madalina. "No, I would not have," Madalina replied.

The Napier's also had a for-profit business called Napier's Neighborhood Newspapers, which used donations to the shelter, according to Iten. "Would you have donated if you knew your money would go to Napier's Neighborhood Newspapers?" Iten asked. "No," Madalina said.

Jason Bowie, who purchased a dog from the Napier's in 2009, testified Friday afternoon. He said the dog was brought outside to him and seemed to have a good disposition, but soon started having behavior issues and acting aggressively, so he took her back along with a $150 check to pay for her continued care. Bowie said the check was made out to Napier's Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary. "Were you aware that the check was deposited to Napier's Neighborhood Newspaper account?" Iten asked him. "No, I was not," Bowie said.

Witnesses involved in the raid also testified about the condition of specific animals. Beth Shuttleworth, owner of Whispering Ranches Feed, took some of the horses taken from the Napier's. She talked about Apple, one horse in particular that she said was obviously dehydrated and malnourished. "You could see the entire ribcage from her spine to the barrel underneath," she said.

The final witness to testify Friday was Jodi Baker-Sorrentino, a veterinarian with Ranch Animal Hospital who spoke about a few dogs that were sent to her from Nate's Honor Animal Rescue that were originally from Napier's' animal shelter. One male terrier mix, who Sorrentino described as depressed, severely anemic and who tested positive for hookworm and heartworm, eventually had to be euthanized.

Update 2/3/15: Circuit Judge Peter Dubensky ruled against a mistrial motion Monday morning in the animal abuse and fraud case against Alan and Sheree Napier. The defense for the Napier's' moved for the mistrial after a juror was dismissed for visiting Whispering Ranches Feed following owner Beth Shuttleworth's testimony in the case Friday. Shuttleworth told Assistant State Attorney Garrett Franzen a juror came to her ranch Friday to see Apple, one of the horses she discussed in court. She told Franzen the juror said her testimony had really spoken to him.
The dismissed juror confirmed he visited the ranch and had seen Apple "for two seconds." He said he had not mentioned his visit to anyone on the jury. There are two alternate jurors so the trial resumed after the dismissal.

The Napier's each face 1 count of scheming to defraud, 1 count soliciting to defraud, 10 counts of aggravated animal cruelty and 1 count animal cruelty.

Susan Keeton, a certified public accountant and fraud examiner, was the first witness called Monday to discuss the taxes and business activity at Napier's Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary.

Franzen had her read several screenshots of websites where the Napier's solicited contributions and expressed the sanctuary mission and purpose. "(The mission is) to provide a temporary home to unwanted animals until a permanent adoptive home can be found, and to provide a permanent home to animals that cannot be adopted," Keeton read. "One hundred percent of donations go to the care of the animals." Assistant State Attorney Brian Iten questioned Keeton at length about the Napier's using different accounts for fundraising, the sanctuary and their for-profit business called Napier's Neighborhood Newspapers, in transactions "unrelated" to business pertaining to the animal shelter. In one register receipt dated June 24, 2011, Keeton listed some items purchased: soda, vegetables, corn and peas. Iten also asked Keeton why she considered money spent by the Napier's to purchase dogs as "unrelated" to the operation.
"I've never seen an animal rescue organization purchase dogs from a breeder and I would say that would not be consistent with its mission of helping unwanted dogs -- homeless dogs," Keeton said.

Jason Reid, defense attorney for Alan Napier, tried to convince Keeton to reconsider some items as related to shelter functions. For example, Reid said soda should be considered related to the operation of the animal shelter. "If they gave that soda to volunteers, wouldn't that be related?" he asked Keeton.
After some hesitation, Keeton said it was highly unlikely because of the volume of soda purchased. Reid said people who work outdoors get dehydrated and drink soda. "Florida's hot, correct?" Reid asked Keeton.

Harold McFarland, an accountant hired by the defense to provide forensic analysis of the couple's finances, also took the stand. Reid questioned McFarland further about his analysis. The Napier's used their own money for personal purchases, he said after looking at the amount of money going in and out of the sanctuary, The Napier's did not have a personal account of their own, he added. Registered puppy sales were a big source of revenue for the Napier's and within normal fundraising practices for a nonprofit, according to McFarland, who also said he had experience volunteering with an animal rescue. Adoptions, however, were not a significant source of income. "It is my opinion that the sanctuary owes the Napier's $2,753," McFarland said. About $8,000 worth of transactions could not be defined as personal or related to the sanctuary, according to McFarland.

About $8,000 worth of transactions could not be defined as personal or related to the sanctuary, according to McFarland. Assistant State Attorney Brian Iten later questioned transactions McFarland deemed sanctuary-related such as buying hot dogs, hamburger and peanut butter. McFarland has said it was a common practice to use these foods to give animals pills or fatten them up. Keeton agreed.

After the state rested, defense witnesses included three veterinarians and two Manatee County Animal Services officers. Jerald Hill, an animal control officer for Animal Services, told Jennifer Joynt-Sanchez, attorney for Sheree Napier, he had been at the Napier's animal shelter up to 10 times between 2010-2014. Hill said he never seized dogs found on the property or issued a citation during his visits. Sanchez asked Hill if he had seen any dogs suffering on the days he visited. "From the dogs I saw, no," Hill said.

Franzen asked Hill if he was allowed to examine conditions anywhere on the property. Hill said he didn't have probable cause to do so and the Napier's didn't give him complete access to the shelter. Franzen asked Hill if he ever expressed concern over the Napier's taking up to 10 days to respond to requests to visit the shelter. The prosecutor said the delays gave the couple time to clean up and move animals they did not want Hill to see. "I'm not sure I used those exact words but I did (ask) why it would take so long for them to allow us on the property," Hill said.

Update 2/4/15: Alana Napier testifies in a Bradenton courtroom Tuesday in the animal abuse and fraud trial of her parents, Alan and Sheree Napier. Alana Napier said she spent six hours at their animal shelter feeding and watering animals the day before it was raided, but didn't have time to clean up because she was in a rush to get to work and handle school duties. Alana Napier, along with other family members, was tasked with caring for animals at Napier's Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary, 20010 State Road 64 E., while her parents were on a cruise celebrating their anniversary. Two days after the couple left, law enforcement officials raided the sanctuary. With hundreds of dogs going twice a day, Napier said: "Do the math. That's a lot of poop."

Assistant State Attorney Garrett Franzen asked how many hours she spent at the sanctuary Monday and Tuesday before the raid. She said three hours Monday, three hours Tuesday morning and three hours Tuesday evening. "You spent six cumulative hours there Tuesday and you didn't have time to clean, you are testifying then," Franzen said. She replied yes.

The defense rested Tuesday morning with neither Napier taking the stand in their own defense.

Closing arguments are scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Wednesday and should take about three hours, attorneys told Circuit Judge Peter Dubensky.

Update 2/4/15: Alan and Sheree Napier have been found guilty of animal abuse and fraud charges. The jury's verdicts came after an eight-day trial in Bradenton. Alan Napier was found guilty of 8 counts of aggravated animal abuse, 1 count of scheming to defraud and 1 count of unlawful solicitation. He was found not guilty of 3 other charges. His wife was found guilty of 8 counts of aggravated animal abuse and 1 count of scheming to defraud. She was found not guilty of 4 other charges. Alan Napier was immediately handcuffed and taken to jail. Sheree Napier is not going to jail at this time, because of her health.

After listening to more than three hours of closing arguments Wednesday morning, the jury began deliberating in the case against the Napier's. The Napier's' each faced 1 count of scheming to defraud, 1 count soliciting to defraud, 10 counts aggravated animal cruelty and 1 count animal cruelty.

A scheme to defraud is what was going on from January 2010 to February 2014, Assistant State Attorney Garrett Franzen said during his closing arguments Wednesday morning. More than $9,000 was deposited into the Napier's for-profit business account during the course of two years before it was closed.
More than $60,000 was spent from operating account on unrelated expenses for the sanctuary. Almost $330 was spent renting RedBox movies. Since losing it's non-profit status in July 2013, more than $15,000 in donations and contributions were still collected. "Who suffered the most, that was these animals," Franzen told the jury.

The defense claimed some of the purchases were to feed volunteers, but the state argued in closing argument that the only volunteers were the Napier's' family members, daughters and their significant others, Franzen said. "So we know both Alan and Sheree Napier and only them were responsible for their care," Franzen said. The defense argued that the state's case was based on emotions.

Sheriff's Office Major Connie Shingledecker, a witness in the case, "admitted that they knew the Napier's were out of town," said Alan Napier's defense attorney Jason Reid, on the day of the raid. "It was the perfect opportunity to catch them with their pants down." Reid reminded the jury that the Napier's live on the sanctuary property. "They took their personal funds and basically kept the sanctuary afloat," Reid said. "If you look at it logically, the Napier's are not guilty."

"The vast majority of those animals would have already been euthanized," Assistant Public Defender Jennifer Joynt-Sanchez began her closing arguments with the state quickly objecting that there was nothing in evidence supporting that fact. Dubensky agreed and sustained the objection. "Sheree is a kind, loving person that opened her home to save animals," Joynt-Sanchez told the jury. "Sheree Napier is not perfect, but she did the best she could." All of Sheree Napier's time, energy and money went to save "those creatures," the defense argued. "She did not set up the sanctuary for personal or financial gains, she set up the sanctuary so she could save animals," Joynt-Sanchez said. "The money went to the animals, there just wasn't enough."

The prosecution disagreed. "Then why keep taking on more and more," Franzen said. "If you don't have the funds ... why keep taking on more animals." All the money went to the animals, except for the nearly $10,000 used for cruises, he added. "Both Napier's, Alan and Sheree, are officers of their 501cs corporation, both clearly involved at every level, were deceiving the public," Franzen said. "When people went on that property and saw the conditions of animals when they didn't have control over who got to see what, these animals that they owned and had custody and control over showed obvious evidence of repeated and excessive infliction of unnecessary pain and suffering."

The atmosphere was relieved outside the Manatee County Courthouse on Wednesday afternoon after a jury handed down guilty verdicts to both Alan and Sheree Napier. A crowd filtered out of the Manatee County Judicial Center early Wednesday evening. Many carried satisfied smiles on their faces. One woman clapped joyously,

Beth Shuttleworth, owner of Whispering Ranches Feed who testified in the case, was among those who beamed at the news. "I'm feeling like 'The Forgotten 17' were not forgotten," the Myakka City resident said, referring to the horses seized by law enforcement from all three of the Napier's' properties. "I had no idea which way it would go. I would only hope it was this way." The Napier horses brought into her care are doing wonderfully, Shuttleworth added. So far, 10 have been placed in foster homes.

Bill Hutchison, interim director of the Manatee County Animal Services Division, said he was pleased for the State Attorney's Office. "All of us have learned a lot from this case, and we have certainly modified our transfer agreement with all our rescues, including things such as inspections -- the right to inspect," he said. "We have been signing new rescue groups under the new agreement, and others will be signing in the next couple of weeks. It does include language that, had it been in place, would have prevented a Napier's situation in our mind."

"Manatee County is not going to tolerate animal abuse or people taking advantage of people trying to save and help animals," said Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore. "I'm very happy with the outcome."

Caryn Hodge, who heads "Picture Them Adopted," a Facebook page promoting animals in need of homes, said she was "heartbroken" for the animals in the East Manatee shelter. "When people are cruel to animals and abuse them, it says a lot about a person's character if they can abuse a helpless animal that relies on them," she said.

Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube described the Napier case as high-profile and one that involved numerous groups from the community. "It appears as though the criminal justice system worked the way its supposed to," he said.

The verdict was what Myakka City resident Debbie Goss wanted. "There's been problems out there for years," the 48-year-old said as she stood outside the courthouse. "It's time that finally they pay for it."

Reference: 

Herald-Tribune The Associated Press
Bay News 9 The St. Augustine Record
News10 Hillsborough County Animal Services
The Bradenton Herald The Manatee County Sheriff's Office
WTSP ABC7