Officials in Burke County have seized 88 animals, including dozens of miniature horses, in connection with an animal cruelty case.
Julie Ann Sherrill, 54, was served a search warrant on Jan. 18 and a total of 88 animals were seized, Burke County authorities said. It comes after a necropsy report on a miniature horse showed it died of starvation, according to Burke County animal services.
Officials removed 49 miniature horses and 39 chickens from two separate locations in Morganton.
The properties were being monitored by Animal Enforcement officers for the last year and a half, but officials said the animals’ conditions took a turn for the worse over the past four months.
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Sherrill, 54, is facing 23 charges. She was arrested Monday but released shortly released after posting the required the $2,500 bond.
While serving the search warrants, officials found dead animals and the skeletal remains of other animals at the two locations. A local veterinarian assessed all the animals that were found. Investigators found evidence that the horses were eating sawdust and mud.
“We did find a deceased horse out there and sent it off for necropsy, and it came back that it had starved to death,” said Kaitlin Settlemyre, the Animal Services director. “Which is extremely unfortunate for that horse, but at that moment we were able to take action.”
The chickens are generally healthy but were found with lice, according to the report. Some will need medical attention.
“These animals are safe and on the road to recovery”, said Kaitlin Settlemyre of Animal Services. “I am proud of what Animal Enforcement Supervisor Brown and his staff have accomplished.”
Scott Mulwee, Chairman of the Burke County Board of Commissioners, released a statement about the operation.
“I am proud of the work that our Animal Services staff does every day for the safety and betterment of animals in Burke County,” Mulwee said. “They continuously go above and beyond in their dedication and service to Burke County citizens and animals. Animal neglect or cruelty will not be tolerated in Burke County, and violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
On Monday, Channel 9′s Dave Faherty spoke with half a dozen volunteers fed the horses and provide bedding for the animals.
The Drexel Fire department and public works are lending a hand by sending one of their tanker trucks to provide water for the miniature horses.
“You hear about stuff so just glad to be part of the good to help out,” said Josh Crump with Drexel Fire. “It doesn’t happen as much anymore but glad to see it happening here.”
The volunteers asked Faherty to not show their faces or say where the animals are being cared for, but spoke about the efforts to help them.
“It’s important for all of us because we have a heart for the animals,” one volunteer said. “We just want to help them be cared for and heal.”
Officers said they tried to work with Sherrill to improve the animals’ care, but their conditions continued to decline over the last four months.
“With all of us being animal lovers, even if not necessarily horse people, that does affect you to some extent,” Settlemyre said. “I just really wish people would know to reach out for help sooner.”
For the first 30 days, Animal Services believes the cost to restore the animals’ health will $410 per horse and $20 per chicken, or almost $21,000 per month. You can donate towards the cause by clicking here.
(WATCH BELOW: NC police find abandoned animals locked in cages on roadside)