Three weeks after seizing 59 animals from a farm where they allegedly suffered from filthy conditions and a lack of food and water, Prince William County animal control officers are making the first of those animals available for adoption.
But while the county seeks new homes for the rabbits, sheep and a bull calf, the owner of the farm insists that the animals were never mistreated.
Larry Sams and his daughter Carolyn Sams, the owners of Cross States Stables in Bristow, face animal cruelty charges after county police seized the livestock from their farm. On Wednesday, as animal shelter staff and police showed the animals to prospective adopters and reporters, they spoke about the condition of the animals when they were seized.
“I transported her that night with an oozing wound on her side. . . . She couldn’t graze because her neck was all full of infection. She was bald in patches too,” Kim Chinn, a police spokeswoman, said about a horse named Chloe. She petted the horse, whom animal control officers said was healing well, and said, “She looks wonderful.”
Veterinarian Jodi Carlson pointed out three white rabbits, which she said arrived at the shelter riddled with parasites and weighing about 13 ounces each when they should have weighed a pound and a half. Now, they are about two pounds.
All of the animals will be housed at the county’s shelter until they are adopted, and Chinn encouraged members of the public to donate to the shelter and specify that they would like the money to go toward the seized animals’ care.
Shannon Porter and her two young daughters were the first people to come look into adopting the animals Wednesday. Porter’s mother owned a pet rabbit, and she said she would like her three children to have one, too. Porter’s daughter Kaiyoni Johnson, 5, peeked into the many rabbit cages and exclaimed, “These two are kissing!” Asked which rabbit was her favorite, her sister, Nasirria Floyd, 2, pointed happily to one, then another, then another.
The family did not take one home Wednesday, but Porter told shelter staff that she intended to adopt one and would return the next day. When she was told about the rabbits’ alleged past at Cross States Stables, she said, “I’m glad that we were able to rescue one and give them good homes.”
But Larry Sams says that they already had a good home, on his farm. “It sounds like I’m the worst person in the world,” he said. “There are two sides to every story — to make it sound so horrifying, that we took all these animals out because they were emaciated, that’s not true.”
Sams has a long history of run-ins with county law enforcement. “We’ve had complaints since day one,” he said. He claimed that since he bought the farm 31 / 2 years ago, animal control officers have visited more than 200 times. “I see them more than my family,” he said.
Chinn declined to comment on the frequency of police visits to the farm. Larry Sams was convicted last year of misdemeanor charges of inadequate care for agricultural animals.
Sams said he previously owned 15 to 20 horses when living in Oklahoma, and his wife rode them as a competitive barrel racer. Cross States Stables, which offers pony rides and children’s parties, pets for sale and a slaughtering facility for people who want to kill their own livestock, is his first attempt at commercial farming. He acknowledged that he entered the business with a lot to learn.
“I’ve learned more since I’ve been here about what [animals] have to have. I thought, you put hay and water in front of them, and give them some shelter. What I didn’t understand was the veterinary care,” he said. But he thinks he learned his lesson long ago and that the county had no reason to seize his animals in April.
He contests several of the police allegations. With regard to Chloe, who supposedly had an untreated wound that was oozing green liquid, Sams said, “That was medicine that you put on the open wound.” About an injured dog, he said it was hurt that very morning. “It could have been kicked by the horse, stepped on by the horse. This is a farm.”
He still has several animals on the farm, which county police check on every day — a llama, a calf, three chickens and six chicks, a lamb, and several horses and ponies, most of which are owned by other people who pay Sams for monthly board.
When Maria Hopkins, who has purchased 20 chickens, a goat and some rabbits from Sams for her own farm in the past six months, stopped by on Thursday to purchase a rooster, he said he had none to sell her. She was surprised to hear about the charges of animal cruelty at Cross States Stables.
“But the rabbits is good! Every rabbit’s eating and drinking water. He puts a big pot with food,” she said. “It’s good conditions.”
Messbah Uddin was similarly surprised. He said he drives from Ashburn to Cross States Stables because it is one of the few places in the area where he can slaughter meat for himself in accordance with halal customs. “At the grocery, they say it’s halal, but you’re not mentally satisfied with that,” he said.
He brought his father-in-law and brother-in-law with him on Thursday to slaughter a lamb, a goat and three chickens to celebrate the birth of his second son six days earlier. The three men recited verses from the Koran, then used a knife to slit the animals’ throats. Blood pooled on the floor, which the men cleaned before they left. They left behind a bag of unwanted animal parts, which Sams said he would dispose of quickly.
Police claimed they found animal parts in the slaughtering area in April that were coated in maggots.
Sams said he ran a clean facility and plans to fight the criminal charges against him.
“Whatever happens, I want to stand up for what’s right. I’m not taking no plea bargain,” he said. “If we let this happen, then you as a Prince William resident can lose your animals for any reason.”
He pointed out one of the many laminated quotations from the Bible that are pinned to the now-empty stables at his farm. It was a line from Proverbs: “The righteous care for the needs of their animals.”