ORANGE PARK – For the first time in years, a neighbor leaned against his fence and eagerly watched with satisfaction knowing some of the squallers that made everyone along Old Jennings Road cringe …
ORANGE PARK – For the first time in years, a neighbor leaned against his fence and eagerly watched with satisfaction knowing some of the squallers that made everyone along Old Jennings Road cringe in disgust was finally being removed.
The Clay County Sheriff’s Office came to 246 Old Jennings Road at 7:30 a.m. Monday morning to serve a search warrant. Nearly 12 hours later, they believed they finally had rounded up all of the 257 animals that roamed the one-acre property that was littered with dilapidated sheds, abandoned cars and trucks and piles of filth.
“I’ve complained for 10 years,” the neighbor, who asked not to be identified, said. “Everyone around here has complained for years, but they couldn’t do anything about it. Everyone’s been fed up. And now, finally …”
Animals rescued from the home included more than 100 dogs – many of them puppies and pregnant females, as well as truckloads of pigs, goats, chickens, pigeons and rabbits, according to CCSO.
Children also were taken away by the Department of Children and Families.
After years of trying, CCSO and Clay County Animal Services finally were allowed to step inside the gate after first responders were called to the home a few weeks ago for a medical emergency. During that call, deputies saw animals in crates stacked inside the mobile home. They also noticed the strong stench of urine and an infestation of fleas. With that information, CCSO was able to obtain an arrest warrant.
The neighbor said the man who rented the property was adamant about keeping law enforcement off his property.
“He acted like he knew the law,” he said. “He always told them they needed a warrant. He kept them out for years.”
The man who needed medical treatment eventually died of COVID-19, the neighbor said. The sheriff’s office confirmed the man died of natural causes.
“We were not really able to get a full look at what else existed beyond the interior of the house when we had the medical call,” Cook said. “So now deputies are having a look at the entire property to see if there is any potential animal abuse or neglect. It was a concern enough when they responded to the medical call.”
It was so bad, the first officers on the scene Monday wore biohazard suits and had to be decontaminated in the front yard. By late afternoon, animal services workers were trying to corral the remaining goats and pigs – some frustratingly trying to chase and lasso the elusive animals.
“Again, these animals were loaded straight from the home where they could potentially have been contaminated with various amounts of contaminants or diseases or something like that,” Clay County Director of Emergency Management John Ward said. He also said there’s been “nothing of this magnitude” in county history.
A makeshift triage and animal hospital was set up days ahead of the raid at the Clay County Agriculture Fairgrounds. There were veterinarians and animal technicians on hand to clean and examine every animal.
“This operation will have many phases to it, with the first and foremost priority being the safety and security of our responders, staff, and animals,” said Clay County Director of Emergency Management John Ward. “We have taken thorough precautions to protect responders from any hazardous substances on the property.” The first phase is the collection of the animals, which is ongoing Monday. The second phase will be the intake, assessment, treatment, grooming and assigning a crate and stall. This will be an ongoing process at the Clay County Fairgrounds. The third phase will be the 14-day quarantine period where the animals will be monitored for any potential diseases. The fourth phase will be determined pending the active investigation, as to when the animals can be released to the county and prepare to be spayed and neutered. The fifth phase will be to work with our community and animal rescue partners to prepare these animals for adoption and find their new safe homes. Ward added, “This process will take several weeks to complete, and many resources will be needed. If you would like to volunteer or donate, please call 1-877-252-9362.”
After the investigation, the animals will either be returned to their owners or taken to be spayed and neutered before county groups put them up for adoption.
Nobody was arrested, but the investigation will continue, Cook said.
“We’re glad to be able to get these animals the care they need,” Cook said. “This is still very early in our investigation, and the results of that will determine any potential charges and arrests.”
Residents are being asked to help feed and provide care for the animals. Items can be dropped off at the fairgrounds’ Exhibit Building 3 between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., or anyone can visit the Amazon Wish List on the Clay County Florida Emergency Management Facebook page. Items needed are puppy pads (pee pads), leashes and collars of all sizes, dry and wet dog food, puppy milk replacement, spray bottles, cleaning wipes, dog toys (Kong-type preferred), treats and dog shampoo. For more information, call the EMC at (877) 252-9362.
“The Board of County Commissioners appreciates the strong partnership we share with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office,” said Chairman Mike Cella. “We have been working closely with CCSO to identify issues of animal neglect in our community, and we will continue to do so. We will not tolerate animal neglect in Clay County.”