Raleigh, N.C. — The animal shelter near Raeford where more than 600 neglected animals were seized this week failed state inspections for more than a decade but was never shut down.
Hoke County deputies and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals raided The Haven – Friends For Life shelter on Wednesday following complaints of animal mistreatment. Owners Linden and Stephen Spear were charged with neglect and a drug charge related to an animal medication, and authorities said they expect more charges in the case.
Animal welfare inspectors with the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services have known about problems at The Haven since state standards for animal shelters were raised in 2005. The shelter's file holds stacks of failed inspections and complaints, including the latest denial of a registration application handed down on Tuesday.
That denial states that inspectors visited The Haven last May and again in September and found unsanitary conditions, a lack of veterinary care and other violations of North Carolina's Animal Welfare Act.
Brian Long, a spokesman for the agriculture department, said the agency was trying to help the Spears come into compliance, but officials never succeeded and never attempted to close The Haven down because of the scope of such a move.
"There was a lot of legal wrangling. There were a lot of promises made on their part. There were steps forward, but then there were always steps backward," Long said.
The Spears fought every step with every legal tool available, he said. Still, he acknowledged that the state should have acted sooner.
"It did go on too long, and it's been frustrating for us," he said. "What happened in that period of time that prevented us from getting to this point? That’s something we’re going to continue to ask ourselves."
ASPCA workers have been moving the animals from The Haven to a temporary shelter in an 80,000-square-foot warehouse near Raleigh, where they undergo a veterinary exam and are photographed, weighed and documented as pieces of evidence in the criminal case against the Spears.
"It's considerably better than where they were," said Ehren Melius, national director of sheltering operations for the ASPCA. "We are providing top-notch care for these animals, so much better than the horrendous conditions they were in before."
ASPCA officials have called the raid at The Haven the largest companion-animal raid they've conducted nationwide in the last 20 years. "Dozens of deceased animals" have been found buried throughout the 122-acre property, officials said.
"It's certainly one of the most difficult logistically and probably one of the most horrendous," Melius said.
The animals will remain at the shelter until the case is resolved, he said. By then, the ASPCA hopes all of the animals will be healthy enough to be placed in homes.