MADISON COUNTY, Ind. (WISH) - Authorities say hundreds of dead animals have been found in a rural area in Madison County.
Wednesday evening, officials digging pits to put dead animals in found a manure pit, 10 feet deep, full of dead animals.
They say they'd originally estimated 125-150 dead animals around and in the barn in Summitville. With the latest discovery, there could be hundreds of dead animals.
Police were called to the area near 1700 North and 400 West around 7 p.m Tuesday. Someone called dispatch and said they thought there were dead animals in a barn because of a strong smell.
The Madison County Sheriff told WISH the first officials on scene observed several dead animals outside a barn on the property there. They obtained a search warrant, and called Hazmat to assess the scene.
During a press conference Wednesday morning, Madison County Sheriff Ron Richardson said this is "a very serious situation."
"In my career, in over 35 years, I have never seen anything this large," he said.
Police discover dead, alive animals
Animals found dead on the farm include horses, chickens, goats and geese.
"In some areas on the property, there are bodies stack up upon bodies," Richardson said.
Around 30 animals were found alive including eight mini horses, six sheep, a llama, two ponies, and multiple chickens, ducks, turkeys and rabbits. Richardson said the Department of Animal Health and Animal Care and Control Pet Adoption League in Anderson will be on the property to care for the animals.
"The animals alive were very thirsty at the time they were giving them water last night," he said. "We don't know if the owner was here every day; there is no watering system or feeding system."
The Department of Animal Health will access the health of the animals on Wednesday. Richardson says he doesn't know if the animals will need to be euthanized or not.
"We are doing everything we can to take care of the live animals today," Richardson said.
Those that won't be euthanized will be up for adoption. Any donations or adoptions can be done through the Animal Care and Control's Pet Adoption League in Anderson by calling 765-278-9435.
Property owners found, cooperate with police
The owner of the property, Daniel Ault, was not at the property when officials first arrived Tuesday evening.
Police found the owner at his business on Ind. 9 in Grant County. That was when he returned to the farm around 11 p.m.
Richardson said the owner got overwhelmed with the amount of animals.
Richardson said Ault is involved with Strawtown Auction in Hamilton County on Ind. 37 and just opened a meat processing place on Ind. 9 in Grant County.
He said Ault purchased the property within the last year. The original home on the property has burnt down.
At one time, Richardson said investigators believe Ault, his wife and two children were living in one of the barns. Human feces was also found in buckets in that barn, he said.
Child Protective Services was at the farm Tuesday evening. Richardson said the family has another residence somewhere between Madison County and Hamilton County where the wife and two children were staying Tuesday night.
Possible felony charges may be filed
Richardson said a representative from the Madison County Prosecutor's Office will be at the farm on Wednesday to "visually see what they are dealing with and to see if charges will be filed." He said if deemed by the prosecutor's office as animal neglect, there could be some felony charges filed, but that's up to the prosecutor's office.
Richardson says he doesn't know how long the neglect has been going on and says "the investigation is still very fresh."
"It's tough," he said. "Even if you are not an animal lover, there is still a compassion…Why didn't he ask for help and why didn't he give them away? I wish we could have come here a little bit sooner but glad we got here last night."
Richardson says investigators will continue their investigation and authorities are still unsure of how to dispose of the animals.
Neighbors speak out
Chris Frye, a neighbor, told WISH that he doesn't understand how someone can think it is OK to leave animals unattended for one day, let alone weeks.
"I understand they are just animals, but they're animals that can't fend for themselves," Frye said. "Being a horse owner myself, we've got animals to husband ourselves, and we've got to take care of a lot of things. I know that there's times we go out and feed our animals before we let our own kids eat. They can't go to a cabinet and get their own food, so you've got to take care of them."
Another neighbor said what happened at the farm was a disgusting discovery.
"This is absolutely sickening, especially in an area like this where every knows everybody," neighbor Mike McNab said. "If somebody has problems, if he needed feed, I get skids of it. I would have given the guy bags of feed to feed, and I know any of the neighbors around here, if he was having troubles, would have helped him out."
McNab said he had given one of his own horses, named Dolly, to his neighbor for the neighbor's granddaughter.
"To have this, it turns my stomach," McNab said. "I don't know hot to go home and explain to my daughters that our horse may no longer be alive."
According to a post on the Animal Protection League of Indiana's Facebook page , the conditions on the farm were "horrid."
"There are countless dead animals; the animals who are alive are walking skeletons," the Facebook page said. "There are horses, goats, sheep, geese, cows and chickens. We will know more tomorrow after the State Vet has examined the animals and what charges will be brought against these people."
The post goes on to say that the organization will need help finding homes for rescued animals.
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