Maries County sheriff expects criminal charges against male owner

The owner of neglected and abused animals that were recently found in Maries County is due in court Tuesday for an animal disposition hearing.

The owner's name is not being released at this time until criminal charges have been filed, but a press release from Maries County Sheriff Chris Heitman identified the owner as a male.

The hearing will take place at 11 a.m. in the Maries County Associate Court Tuesday, Oct. 2. The disposition will determine the custody of the animals.

If custody is awarded to the Humane Society of Missouri, as many of the animals as possible will be made available for adoption.

A press release from the Humane Society of Missouri said the organization is recommending animal abuse charges in this case.

Heitman also said he is "expecting criminal charges to be filed by the Maries County prosecutor in the near future." The owner of the animals may be facing numerous counts of animal neglect and improper disposal of animal remains.

A total of 40 animals, including dogs, rabbits, horses and goats, were rescued Thursday from farm property in the 34400 block of Highway 63, north of Vienna. More animals may be seized at a later date, Heitman stated.

The Maries County Sheriff's Office, state animal investigators with the Missouri Department of Agriculture (MDA) and the Humane Society of Missouri Animal Cruelty Task Force all responded to the property Thursday following up on a report of animal abuse and neglect made Wednesday. A warrant to search the property was executed Thursday.

"I am very thankful for the resourses provided by the Missouri Department of Agriculture and the Missouri Humane Society," Heitman said. "Without them, we would not have been able to rescue as many animals as we did."

A spokesperson for the sheriff's office said Thursday that he believes deputies heard about the report from a hotline tip to the Humane Society.

According to the Humane Society, many of the animals are severely underweight and have had little access to food, fresh water, adequate shelter or veterinary care. The water that was available to the dogs was contaminated with urine and feces.

A recently deceased horse and multiple animal carcasses were found on the property. The animals were removed at the recommendation of an MDA veterinarian.

"These animals appeared to be starving to death. It was a very disturbing scene," Heitman said.

While inspecting the property, sheriff's deputies found several malnourished dogs, goats, pigs, cows and horses. The sheriff said deputies found remains of at least six horses as well as numerous cows and pigs. Numerous animals were seized that were in need of immediate medical attention.

The rescued horses and goats were transported to the Humane Society of Missouri's Longmeadow Rescue Ranch in Union.

The rescued rabbits and dogs, which include adult and newborn Beagles, Terriers and Great Pyrenees, arrived Thursday evening at the Humane Society of Missouri's headquarters in St. Louis.

Several goats, pigs, sheep and cattle remain on the property. The MDA has made recommendations to the owner about appropriate care of those animals. The Humane Society of Missouri will continue to work with the MDA and Maries County Sheriff's Office to follow up on these recommendations.

The sheriff's office is unsure for how long the animals had been reportedly neglected.