On May 19, 2009, the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response (FIR) Team, as well as our Mobile Animal Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) Unit, were dispatched to manage the collection of animal evidence in the investigation of an animal "sanctuary" in Cazenovia, Wisconsin, known as the Thyme and Sage Ranch. The teams discovered more than 400 animals at the site, many of whom were ill and suffering.
Since 2007, the ranch, owned by Jennifer Petkus, held the animal control contract for Richland County, which permitted it to pick up stray dogs, cats and other small animals. It also acted as the county's animal shelter. After numerous public complaints regarding the condition of animals kept at the ranch, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) began an investigation with the help of Dane County Humane Society (DCHS). Dr. Lisa Kerwin Lucchi, DCHS's medical director, contacted Dr. Merck with a request to assist in the evaluation and report to be presented to the district attorney of Richland County. Based on Dr. Lucchi's findings and other supporting reports, the District Attorney of Richland County opened an investigation and requested the ASPCA to manage the animal evidence of the criminal case. The ASPCA assisted in the investigation and subsequent search of the sanctuary property.
During the early morning hours of May 19, the DCHS, ASPCA, American Humane Association and HSUS, alongside the Richland County Sheriff's Department, raided the Thyme and Sage Ranch. More than a dozen responders from the ASPCA FIR Team, as well as crime scene investigators, began to collect evidence for the prosecution of the criminal case and evaluate the animals found at the site.
"This was not a sanctuary," said ASPCA Manager of Field Operations Kristen Limbert. "The stench of feces and urine and rotting straw was awful. Sick animals were crowded together everywhere we looked."
Most of the animals were housed in deplorable conditions and suffering from neglect; ear and eye infections, various other infections, rotted teeth, mange, malnutrition, and fur matted with feces were rampant. One ram, missing a leg and left to suffer with a large open wound, had to be immediately euthanized. Rotting animal carcasses were also found on site. Many of the dogs were pregnant, suggesting to some that Petkus was breeding puppies for sale.
All together, more than 315 dogs, 21 rabbits, birds, horses, chinchillas and a ferret were examined on the scene and in the ASPCA CSI Unit. Dr. Ellen Hirshberg, a staff veterinarian at ASPCA Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital and a member of the FIR Team, said, "Many of the animals were underweight. A substantial number of them had skin diseases caused by the excrement that matted their fur. The majority of the rabbits had portions of their ears missing, probably due to trauma."
Petkus relinquished ownership of 270 animals, who were transported to at least 15 animal shelters and rescue groups throughout Wisconsin. The Thyme and Sage Ranch owner was initially charged with 11 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty, including improper shelter and mistreating animals by intent or negligent violation, and five forfeitures—to which she pleaded not guilty. Later, the number of total misdemeanor charges filed against Petkus rose to 39.
In October 2009, Petkus and the Richland County District Attorney's Office reached a settlement in the civil components of the case. Petkus agreed to surrender all but four of the seized animals to DCHS. The remaining four were conditionally entrusted to Petkus's parents. As part of the deal, DCHS agreed to absorb the costs of caring for animals from the Thyme and Sage Ranch, and the following month, the ASPCA granted the shelter $50,000 for care of the animals.
A criminal trial is scheduled for February 2011. If convicted, Petkus faced up to a $10,000 fine or nine months in jail for each misdemeanor. Each civic forfeiture carries a fine of between $200 and $5,000. The animals were held as evidence by DCHS and its shelter partners as part of the ongoing investigation.
To learn more about animal hoarding, visit our Hoarding FAQ.
The ASPCA is extremely grateful to the shelters and organizations that aided in the rescue and housing of these animals. We are honored to recognize their generosity. They include:
- Dane County Humane Society
- PetSmart Charities®
- American Humane Association
- Saranac Technical Rescue Team
- Humane Society of the United States
- United Animal Nations
- Hooved Animal Rescue and Protection Society
- Happily Ever After Animal Sanctuary
- Shelter From The Storm Animal Rescue
- Washington County Humane Society
- Dunn County Humane Society
- Adams County Humane Society
- LaCrosse County Humane Society
- Dodge County Humane Society
- Wallpaca County Humane Society
- Humane Animal Welfare Society
- Green Lake Humane Society
- Sheboygan County Humane Society
- Clark County Humane Society