Fauquier County resident Daniel Sweeny is expected to stand trial today in Fauquier General District Court on charges of animal cruelty for the alleged neglect of more than 80 animals, including dogs, cats, rabbits and horses.
If he is found guilty of the charges, which are misdemeanors, Sweeny, who lives in The Plains, could receive up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, according to Fauquier Commonwealth Attorney Roger Inger.
According to county officials who went to the farm where Sweeny and his wife rent a home and barn, the animals were found to be suffering from serious neglect.
Five animals, a cat and four rabbits, were found dead, officials said.
The animals, which included six dogs, 22 cats, 16 rabbits, 17 horses and ponies, a donkey and several fowl were discovered without food or water, most of them in the unheated barn.
Several animals were also found in cages inside the house.
"What water we found was frozen in the dishes," said Sharon Maloney, spokesman for the Fauquier Humane Society. "We found no feed at all -- some of the animals were eating their own excrement."
According to Sweeny's attorney Karen Kennedy, the couple were professionals who show and breed animals rather than keeping them as pets.
Professionals, she said, have different standards regarding animals than pet owners. "In addition, they admit they may have had too many to handle properly," Kennedy said.
Sweeny's wife had been ill for a week and had been unable to help care for the animals, Kennedy said. Sweeny and his sons were on their way to the barn to feed and water them when Carol Scott, county animal warden, showed up. "She wouldn't let them in the barn," Kennedy said. "She just took some of the animals away with her."
According to the Virginia code, she added, animal owners are entitled to 48 hours to "clean up their act" before any action is taken. "Dan was denied his rights," she said.
Of all the animals, the horses and ponies were in the best physical condition, Maloney said.
"We found some hay in the loft and a half bag of sweet seed and the neighbors said they had been watering the horses. But I ripped open what I thought was a feed sack and found dead bunnies in it," she said.
Most of the animals were loaded onto vans and trucks and taken to a county animal shelter.
Once there, Maloney said, there was "non-stop drinking. They cats, dogs and rabbits drank water for three days before they would eat anything."
Scott said all the animals appeared to be show or breeding quality.
They included beagles, King Charles spaniels, and a Jack Russell terrier. The cat found dead in a chair in the barn was a white Persian, Scott said.
County officials said Sweeny told them he had not been able to feed them "that day", Jan. 2, the day county officials came to his farm.