A new padlock and a calico cat were the only signs of habitation at 3180 Silk Hope Gum Springs Road on Friday, two days after authorities seized 190 animals from the property.
About 40 rescue workers and sheriff’s deputies spent 15 hours Wednesday removing cats, dogs, cows, horses, chickens, waterfowl and a 400-pound hog from the property. WRAL identified the animals’ owner as Stephane Joostema.
No charges were filed as of Friday afternoon, but the sheriff’s office said the decision would be made after all the animals had been examined.
The cats and dogs have been moved to a temporary shelter and the livestock to rescue groups. It will take several days to examine, vaccinate and document all 131 cats and 23 dogs, Chatham County Animal Services Director Leigh Anne Garrard said Thursday.
Sandy Albright, owner and operator of Crossroads Veterinary Hospital in Raleigh, said each physical exam records any physical abnormalities: discharges, lumps, swelling, skin diseases and parasites.
Each cat is tested for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus before receiving basic vaccinations. Dogs, also vaccinated, are checked for heart worms, Lyme disease and Ehrlichia (a tick-borne parasite that causes fever, muscle pain and nausea in humans). The entire process takes about 10 minutes.
Garrard said most of the animals are well-socialized. Few appeared emaciated or severely wounded, though many appeared to have skin problems or parasites.
One animal, an obese female lab mix, can’t walk. Rescue workers had to carry her off the property on a stretcher. Too heavy for the scales at the emergency shelter, she weighs about 130 pounds, veterinarians estimated. Albright said she probably has not been able to stand for months.
County health department and animal services representatives have been working with the owner for more than two years to improve the animals’ living conditions.
Officials were notified in 2013 that nearly 100 animals were being kept inside a single home on the property and that the animals outdoors seemed to be receiving poor care.
The county inspected the property at the time and found animals with “untreated medical conditions” in “unsafe,” “unsanitary” housing, said Erica Geppi, North Carolina state director of the Humane Society of the United States.
Ashley Maureci, the assigned HSUS case worker, described the case as “large-scale animal cruelty.” She said the animals had no air flow and no access to the outdoors Wednesday.
“It was very challenging for responders to breathe,” Maureci said.
Joostema insisted her care was adequate.
“Did they look bad to you? No, they did not look bad to you,” Stephane Joostema told WRAL Thursday. “Cruelty is the most insane word to use for someone like me.”
Sheriff’s Capt. Doug Stuart called the seizure as an “intervention.”
Garrard said the county negotiated as long as it did because its goal is not to remove people’s animals, but to gain owners’ cooperation.
“But when conditions become bad, we obviously have a duty to protect,” Garrard said. “Lining up resources took months. This is a massive undertaking, and not something agencies are capable of planning and executing on their own.”
Want to adopt?
None of the animals are available for adoption yet. If you’re interested, contact Debra Henzey, 919-542-8258, or Chatham County Animal Services, 919-542-7203.