RAYMOND — The Harbor Association of Volunteers for Animals (HAVA) was anonymously alerted on Oct. 13 about an animal-hoarding situation in Raymond. The tip led to discovery of a scene like a clip from a horror film.
The tip emailed to HAVA President Dee Roberts said an unknown number of rabbits, cats, chickens and other animals were dying or dead in cages at a residence on Krause Road in Raymond.
“I called [Pacific County Dispatch] and gave them the information … that came through the HAVA website,” Roberts said. “I told them when I gave them the information that if they needed HAVA, they could call me, and not long after I contacted them, I received a call from dispatch that we were needed onsite as soon as possible.”
Immediately after Roberts’ call to dispatch, a Pacific County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) deputy was sent to the location to investigate the information. The deputy was horrified by what he found, Chief Criminal Deputy Pat Matlock said.
Deputy Jesse Eastham smelled a strong odor of feces immediately after exiting his patrol vehicle. As he approached the home, he observed piles of feces and cages on the porch, including one with kittens inside. One of the kittens couldn’t open its eyes due to compacted dirt and feces.
“He [then] looked around outside the residence where there is a fenced yard which contained multiple small cages,” Matlock said. “Inside those separate cages were multiple ducks, geese, and cages that he [couldn’t determine what was inside].”
Matlock continued, “the conditions in his description were deplorable, and several of the animals lacked food and water. He noticed a trench connecting each cage that drains down to the bottom section of the fence of the yard. There were pools of blood, feces, urine, and water mixed inside the trench that appeared several inches deep and had been sitting for an extended period of time.”
Most of the cages offered little to no shelter to the animals, leaving them exposed to the elements. Due to the conditions, Eastham applied for and was granted a search warrant for the property the same day. While searching the property, the property owner, identified as 71-year-old Beverly Kessler, arrived home.
“The deputy had enough information to see that there was reasonable suspicion, and there were [animals in danger] on the property,” Matlock said. “He had the search warrant approved by a judge and had [HAVA volunteers respond to the site] with him to help handle the animals.”
Matlock continued, “while they were on scene [Kessler] showed up, and the deputy contacted her, and she was explaining that she was actually bringing food back for the rabbits and guinea pigs, but it was very apparent that they hadn’t had it in a long time. He told her that the animals in immediate danger were going to be taken by and housed by HAVA.”
Eastham and five HAVA volunteers went through the entire property, including the main residence, a shop that housed rabbits, and the property’s yard.
Over 100 rescued
In total, Eastham and the volunteers rescued 16 cats, 60 rabbits, up to 40 guinea pigs and six birds. There are still an estimated 120 rabbits and 15 cats and various chickens, ducks, geese and a couple of goats remaining at the home.
Due to the overload of animals, the rescued rabbits are being cared for at the Pacific County Fairgrounds under an emergency agreement between Pacific County and HAVA. The cats have been dispersed among foster homes, which have had to separate them from other pets due to their poor health conditions. The guinea pigs are also being fostered.
“Dennis Company has generously donated shavings for the [rabbit and guinea pig] bedding, food, and as many water bottles as they had,” Roberts said. “As much as they could donate, they did to help us care for the [animals] out there right now. We are working on setting up a schedule to take care of them.”
Since the initial rescue, HAVA has spent around $3,000 on care and is expected to need tens of thousands more to get all the animals checked by a veterinarian and treated.
“This is by far the worst, the biggest, and probably going to be the costliest situation we’ve ever had,” Roberts said. “We [badly] need financial support right now. McKayla Smith and Della Hale are working on a list of what we need. We will post a list on our Facebook page of what we need, but we [really need money].”
Roberts continued, “I commend McKayla for doing an excellent job because it’s not easy. The whole thing is gut-wrenching, but she is doing it mostly single-handedly at this point.” Smith was the volunteer who led the rescue and is coordinating resources with Roberts.
PCSO has completed its investigation and forwarded the case to the Pacific County Prosecutor’s Office for the charge of animal cruelty in the second degree, which is a gross misdemeanor. If charged and found guilty, Kessler could face up to 364 days in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
HAVA volunteers who responded to the home also wrote statements about what they witnessed for the case. Investigators also obtained pictures of the scene that are described as “completely disgusting and shockingly horrid.”
No more cooperation
HAVA volunteers responded back to the home on Sunday, Oct. 18 but were turned away by Kessler. She also spoke directly with Roberts, who pleaded for her to hand over the animals for their well being.
“She made it very clear that she no longer wanted any help from HAVA,” Roberts said. “She said that all the animals were being properly cared for. I’ve told all our volunteers to stay away from the home, and we will let the courts decide what happens moving forward.”
Roberts continued, “all we want is to rescue the animals and get them cared for. I even pleaded with her to let us take them and allow her to get everything cleaned up. Then they could return, if that’s how things worked out.”
Another Pacific County deputy also responded to the home on Oct. 18 to conduct a welfare check, because Kessler had been reported out of the area since Thursday, Oct. 16. The deputy was reportedly “horrified” by what he found, according to Roberts, due to the still-deplorable conditions.