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 tells 24-Hour News 8 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.
"It's very upsetting. It's hard to wrap your mind around how someone could let this happen," said Meleah Stringer, director of the Madison County Animal Protection League. "You've got live animals living on top of dead animals. You've got decaying animals. You've got animals that are thrown in buckets and baskets and under tarps. Complete disregard for for any sort of compassionate care or humanity. It's just appalling."
During the afternoon hours, a back hoe was used to dig two large holes on the property. The plan is to bury the carcasses in those holes.
Wednesday evening, more dead animals were found in a manure pit and septic tank measuring 20 feet wide by 10 feet deep. The tank was full of poultry, cows and chickens.
Around 30 animals were found alive including eight mini horses, six sheep, a llama, two ponies, and multiple chickens, ducks, turkeys and rabbits are still alive. 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."
"We are doing everything we can to take care of the live animals today," Richardson said.
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.
Ault told 24-Hour News 8 Wednesday that he became overwhelmed with a meat processing business he recently bought. Ault says some of the animals on his farm died four months ago and he didn't have the necessary machinery to move and dispose of the carcasses. He also said the deaths were not preventable.
"I have livestock," Ault said. "I lose animals from stress and shipping. We lost some horses due to some disease we had in hay we had purchased."
Ault said he was converting an area of one of the barns into an apartment for his family. That's when they lived on the farm. Problems with a contractor led him to find a different home.
24-Hour News 8 spoke to people in Hamilton County in 2010 who said Ault didn't do a good job of keeping his goats contained. He was never charged or targeted by authorities, though neighbors worried his goats were causing traffic accidents.
He did receive two citations – one for public nuisance animal and a second for animal cruelty/abuse/neglect/abandonment.
Neighbors there told 24-Hour News 8 Wednesday animals would often run across the street.
"Sometimes there would be dead animals," said Sheila Felker, a neighbor. "They had a lot of problems, some of the horses got out and got hit and killed."
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."
Officials will dig a giant hole on the property and will bury the carcasses. Richardson says investigators will continue their investigation.
Neighbors speak out
Chris Frye, a neighbor, told 24-Hour News 8 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 Animal Protection League, based in Anderson, assisted to get the live animals found on scene to foster homes Wednesday evening.
24-Hour News 8 was there as some of the animals arrived at their new home.
Molly Gunason is one of those fostering animals. She took in miniature horses, sheep, ponies, and a llama.
"It's hard to see anything like that," she said. "If he needed help, all he had to do was ask, and people would jump up and help. All you have to do is ask."
Jessica Dean was one of those who helped transport the animals from the barn.
"It's horrific. I've seen a lot. That has to be the worst thing I've ever seen in my life," Dean said.
The animals in foster care are doing OK. They've got matted fur and are in need of food and water. If you'd like to help, much is needed.
Contact the Animal Protection League at 765-356-0900. You can send checks to 613 Dewey Street, Anderson, IN 46016.
Madison County officials said they will be back on the scene at 8 a.m. Thursday.
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