PLAIN VIEW — Sixty animals have been seized and charges are expected to soon be lodged in an animal hoarding probe that began nearly a month ago in northern Sampson County.
Authorities were still at the Bob Rupert Lane residence near Dunn Tuesday afternoon, gathering animals and transporting them to the Sampson Livestock Facility on U.S. 421 south, where Sheriff’s Lt. Marcus Smith said they would be cared for and eventually adopted out.
The seizure of the animals began around 9:30 a.m. after animal control deputies served a search warrant on the residence.
In all, 37 horses, nine ducks, five chickens and 9 guineas were being removed from the property Tuesday.
“The investigation is ongoing,” Smith said, ” and charges will be filed against the suspect for animal cruelty-related charges.”
The suspect’s name has not yet been released and the lieutenant did not say when those charges might be leveled.
Removal of the animals comes on the heels of a month-long investigation into potential animal cruelty that involved a large number of malnourished horses being kept on less than five acres of land.
The probe led to an assessment by an animal rescue league on June 13 and the immediate seizure of five horses.
Since that time, the probe has intensified, and several other horses were taken from the property, including an unregistered mare Mustang, Animal Control Sgt. Jessica Kittrell said last week.
At that time, Kittrell noted that the Bob Rupert Lane resident was attempting to reduce the number of animals on her property, which included 54 horses at the June 13 count. The animal control officer said the resident was supposed to alert officers as animals left the property.
This week, with search warrant obtained and served, the rescue of the animals began.
Sampson Sheriff Jimmy Thornton noted that several non-profit agencies and community volunteers responded along with deputies to the residence to help with the seizure and removal of the animals. “This has been a long investigation and I am proud to say with the community’s help and the hard work of my deputies, these animals can now be given the care they need,” the sheriff said.
He ticked off a list of those he said he wanted to thank for their help in transporting the animals to the livestock facility, including Ethan Strickland, Joe Knowles, Bradley Knowles, Brittany Knowles, Alexandra Knowles, Trinity Knowles, Jane Ford, Billy Brown, Billy Martin, Roger McLean, Freddie Thornton Farms, Bobby Thornton-Thornton Enterprises and Craig Thornton-Thornton Enterprises.
Smith noted that several groups and individuals had already inquired about making donations to help offset the cost of caring for the animals. All donations, he said, can be arranged by contacting Kittrell at 592-4141.
According to information released by the Southeast Coast Region of the U.S. Equine Rescue League (USERL), that office was contacted June 12 by Sampson County Animal Control officers who requested they assist in the Bob Rupert Lane case.
Volunteers with the group were on hand on June 13 to assess the animals. Five were immediately placed into care, others, the group said, were pending. That number increased as the probe intensified.
Ponies, miniature horses, yearlings and elderly horses were co-mingled in several enclosures in a barn at the residence near Plain View, the June 13 assessment showed.
USERL does not comment on legal issues involving horse abuse and neglect, a press released from the group noted.
“It was disgusting,” said chapter director Debbie Walsh Bartholomew of what they found during the June 13 assessment. “We have 2-week-old babies, pregnant mares, stallions, all mixed in together.”
Most of the horses were suffering from malnutrition, and many had open wounds, serious infections and skin issues, group officials noted. The horses, they said, ranged from body scores of 3 (moderate to poor health) to 1 (critical).
“This is one of the worst cases we’ve seen in North Carolina,” Bartholomew said. “It’s a textbook example of why people need to have their stallions gelded. Horses are not like big dogs — you can’t just turn them loose to graze and expect them to remain healthy.”
Volunteers are using social media to spread the word about the case through the group’s Facebook page, USERL-SECR.
The USERL is a national, non-profit equine rescue organization. All donations are tax deductible and 100 percent of donations go to the care and rehabilitation of abandoned, abused and neglected horses. The Southeaast Coast Region serves all of eastern North Carolina.