By Lee J. Kahrs/The Reporter
BRANDON — More than 100 animals were seized from a farm on Kimball Road and the property owner has been charged with animal abuse.
The farm has been the subject of animal abuse investigations in the past, and neighbors said the most recent raid was a relief.
On Friday, Jan. 31, Brandon police executed a search warrant at the Hegarty property located at 671 Kimball Road, assisted by the Rutland County Sheriff’s Department and the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife. The search resulted in the removal of 120 farm and domestic animals from the property over two days. Authorities seized 15 cats (including one deceased), 12 dogs, 16 pigs, 34 goats, 24 sheep, 14 rabbits, four horses and one cow. Still at the farm are dozens of chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys, and possibly more cats.
Police said they found several deceased animals on the farm.
Property owner William M. Hegarty, 54, of Brandon pleaded not guilty to two counts of animal cruelty when he was arraigned in Rutland County Superior Court, Criminal Division, on Tuesday, Feb. 4.
Defense attorney Peter Langrock said his client has surrendered all of the animals, including the fowl that are still on the farm.
“This is a situation where there were too many animals that got out of hand,” Langrock said.
Brandon police said the investigation is ongoing and additional charges may be filed.
Numerous agencies assisted local police, including the Rutland County State’s Attorney’s Office, the Humane Society of the United States, the Rutland County Humane Society, the Rutland Area Animal Disaster Response Team, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Brandon’s Animal Control Officer, the Vermont Veterinary Medical Association, and many others.
It is not the first time animals owned either by Hegarty or his wife, Suzanne, have been taken by authorities.
In 2000, the Addison County Humane Society seized one of the Hegartys’ horses from an East Middlebury property because it showed signs of being underweight, according to court documents. No criminal charges were filed, and the horse was returned less than two weeks later after receiving veterinary attention.
In 2008, the Rutland County Sheriff’s Department took around 100 animals from the Kimball Road farm and a farm in Hubbardton owned by the Hegartys following a three-week investigation. The animals included cats, dogs, rabbits, ferrets, doves, goats, Shetland ponies and roughly 60 horses.
Suzanne Hegarty pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor charge of animal cruelty in that case and accepted a plea deal in exchange for an 8-year deferred sentence and probation. She was allowed to keep 17 of her pets and livestock but was not allowed to breed animals, was ordered to spay and neuter her pets, and required to make monthly veterinarian visits.
On Friday morning, authorities arrived at the farm to execute a warrant. Several cars and trucks towing livestock trailers were lined up along the side of the dirt road leading to the Hegarty property as authorities seized the animals.
About a mile closer to town, where Kimball Road begins, neighbor Kurt Kimball said he knows the farm well, and that he had already noticed a difference in the neighborhood once the convoy of law enforcement and state vehicles went by.
“This is the first time in years it’s been so quiet,” he said. “Usually it’s bark, bark, bark, bark, bark, all hours of the day and night. They can hear the dogs all the way over in Leicester Junction. It’s an ongoing thing. They’re nice people and all, but I don’t know why they have to have all those animals.”
Kimball’s daughter Julie, 24, said she has often helped out the Hegartys with animal care on the farm. She also said she remembers the 2008 raid on the Kimball Road property.
“Oh, yeah, I was home that day too,” she said. “We’ve gone down and the animals didn’t have hay, didn’t have water. We’d go down and bring them dog food just so they’d have something to eat.”
“I brought a Christmas tree down for the goats a few weeks ago,” Kurt said. “We’ve brought hay, corn.”
The elder Kimball said that while he agreed that the animals should have been taken, he doesn’t think William Hegarty should be charged with animal abuse.
“As far as I’m concerned, Bill’s the one who got the raw deal here,” Kurt Kimball said. “I feel like he shouldn’t have been put in that position. He’s a businessman. He can’t be in two places at once. I feel sorry for him.”
Julie Kimball said she knew there would be an ongoing issue with the animals at the farm, and has tried to reason with the Hegartys.
“We’ve told them over the years, ‘You can’t have all these animals,” Julie said.
She said she and her dad tried to buy the Hegartys’ cow, but they wouldn’t sell it. She also said she personally found homes for seven out of nine puppies from a litter at the farm a few years ago.
As for Friday’s animal welfare raid, Julie Kimball was asked if she felt that the Hegartys’ animals should be removed from the farm.
“They should take the animals,” she said. “I hope they do.”
Brandon Police Chief Chris Brickell said that when he entered the house at the beginning of the raid there was a heavy smell of ammonia, which is characteristic of urine.
“I was immediately overwhelmed by the odor of ammonia to the point of having to wear a paper mask to help filter the odor,” Brickell wrote in an affidavit filed with the court Tuesday. “The residence was littered throughout with boxes, cans of cat food, farm equipment, and trash that left pathways barely able to get through.”
Further inspection found a bathtub, “completely filled with animal waste several inches deep, as was the floor.” Brickell then opened a door to what he described as a “cat room” where again the smell of ammonia was “overpowering.” He said the door frame was “completely scratched up from cats trying to get out of the room. Scratch marks were as high as six feet.”
Outside, he found numerous dead animals.
Brickell described an outside pen containing fowl and two hogs:
“I found one of the hogs to be deceased lying in the pen. None of the bowls within the pen had any food or water in them. There was also a dead goose hanging by its neck that appeared to have gotten caught in the fencing.”
In another area of the farm, Brickell describes seeing “several dead bird carcasses” inside a dog pen.
“One of the dogs continually going back to one and eating it,” he wrote, and described frozen water bowls with long marks in the ice from the dogs licking it to get water.
A veterinarian at the scene determined that a horse was “extremely dehydrated, all four hooves were turned up and broken, and that the horse was lame due to the condition of its hooves,” Brickell wrote.
The police chief described finding “several areas of dead livestock,” including a dead lamb in the corner of an arena, and a dead rabbit in a barn stall with several live rabbits.
Perhaps most disturbing is the description of a photograph Brickell received from a complainer of “three baby goats who had huddled together in a stall in November of 2018 due to cold and lack of feed, and eventually died there.”
During the Jan. 31 search, Brickell reported that, “the carcasses of these goats still remain in the stall.”
William Hegarty was released in court Tuesday on several conditions.
When asked why Suzanne Hegarty was not charged in this case, Chief Brickell responded, “Because it’s an ongoing investigation.”
In the meantime, people in Brandon and surrounding communities have opened their pastures, barns and homes to house the animals seized in last week’s animal welfare raid.
Brickell said all of the animals have been placed in safe environments.
“I’ve been in touch with the prosecutor and as of this morning, we have locations for all of the animals to go to, including the animals that have not yet been removed from the property,” he said on Tuesday.
Donations for the care and feeding of the animals can be made by contacting Brandon Animal Control at 802-393-0340.
The Blue Seal store has also put out a donation bucket to help the cause.
Conditions of release
The court required William Hegarty to:
• Refrain from any contact with Erika and Mark Gutel (Kinder Way Farm Sanctuary) Beth Saradarian (executive director of the Rutland County Humane Society), Sarah Freeman (who made the initial complaint in this case), Janet Carini (veterinarian) and Allaire Smith-Miller (veterinarian). Hegarty may communicate with the Gutels and Saradarian through counsel to arrange for the removal of any remaining animals. The condition includes contact via phone, email or by third person. Hegarty is also prohibited from harassing those named above and agents of designated rescue agencies during the removal of the remaining animals, and is prohibited from entering the land or premises of the home, school or workplace of the individuals named above.
• Refrain from purchasing, possessing or being the caretaker for any animals, other than those still at the farm. He is required to feed and water the remaining animals until they are removed from the property.
• Allow agents of designated rescue agencies access to the Kimball Road property to remove the remaining animals at mutually agreeable times with law enforcement if rescue agents request it.