The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘These animals were betrayed’: More than 600 recovered in near-record rescue

This ASPCA video was released Saturday, Jan. 29 after 600 animals were rescued from a North Carolina shelter. It was one of the largest companion-animal rescues in ASPCA’s 150-year history. (Video: ASPCA)

More than 600 animals were rescued from a North Carolina shelter this week in what one national anti-animal cruelty group said was among the largest rescues in its history.

National and local animal advocates teamed up with local police to recover hundreds of animals, including dogs, cats, horses and pigs from the Haven, a private, no-kill shelter in Raeford, N.C.

“These animals were betrayed by the promise of going to a place that is a safe haven for animals, and it is anything but that,” Tim Rickey, senior vice president of field investigations and response for ASPCA, said in a video posted by the group. “We’re finding lethargic and lifeless dogs throughout the property and the same thing with cats.”

In a statement posted Wednesday, the day of the rescue, Rickey called the operation one of the largest companion-animal rescues in ASPCA’s 150-year history. At the time, the group said it recovered more than 270 dogs, 250 cats, 40 horses and several pigs from the 122-acre property. That number has since risen: The group now says it rescued at least 600 animals.

The largest companion-animal rescue in ASPCA’s history came in 2012, when it recovered more than 700 cats in Florida, according to the Associated Press.

The shelter’s owners, Stephen Joseph Spear and Linden Spear, were arrested and charged with several counts of cruelty to animals and possession of controlled substances, the Hoke County Sheriff’s office said in a Wednesday statement.

[Washington Animal Rescue League marks 100 years]

“We’ve seen open wounds on animals, we’ve seen no water for the animals, we are seeing animals that seem to be malnourished,” Cpt. John Kivett, of the Hoke County Sheriff’s office, told a local news station.

Animals were kept in “filthy kennels, cages, outdoor pens and paddocks, many without protection from the elements,” the Asheville Humane Society, which assisted in the rescue, said in a Facebook post. Many had untreated medical issues, including “open wounds, severe upper respiratory disease and emaciation.”

BREAKING NEWS: Asheville Humane Society assists the ASPCA and the Hoke County Sheriff’s Office to seize nearly 600…

Posted by Asheville Humane Society on Thursday, January 28, 2016

The shelter faced public scrutiny for years, with local animal advocates even launching a Facebook page to document their concerns.

A September inspection by the state Agriculture Department found several problems, including inadequate water and medical care, the Associated Press reported on Friday. ASPCA became involved at the request of the sheriff’s office and the Agriculture Department, the group said.

Several hundred animals are already being housed at two 40,000-square-foot warehouses run by ASPCA, according to AP. There, they are receiving care from roughly 140 veterinarians, staffers and volunteers.

[Washington animal rescue group saves dogs from South Korean meat farm]

Despite the raid, the Spears still have some defenders. Nancy Moore, at whose home the Spears are staying, told the AP that the shelter always seemed well-managed.

“I think they have provided a tremendous service in terms of the community, and certainly for animals. I would say they have dedicated their lives to basically taking care of them,” Moore said.

And one volunteer told local TV station WNCN that she was shocked by the news and felt the shelter provided adequate care.