Tower woman cited for neglect after animals die of starvation
The owner of a dilapidated farm near Tower where at least six animals died of starvation has been issued a misdemeanor citation for animal neglect.
Marcia Berg, 45, who owns the farm and animals on Wiseman Road in Vermilion Township, will have to appear in court at a later date to answer the charge that could bring up to a $3,000 fine and 90 days in jail.
Photos of the farm, taken by neighbors, show dead animals that appear to have starved, some in stalls filled with feces.
Lisa Anderson, who lives about two miles from the farm, said she went to investigate on March 17 after reports of horses loose in the area. She said the scene was horrific.
"I didn't get 10 feet before I saw the first dead horse, a palomino. There was feces everywhere, and dead animals on top of feces. It was the worst thing I've ever seen," Anderson said. "I own my own horses and I know that to starve a horse to death takes weeks, maybe months. This had been going on for a long, long time."
Anderson also found a live dog in a cage in the unlocked trailer home on the property "with its feet stained red from living in its own feces and urine."
"I didn't know about this place before all of this. I didn't know the woman (Berg) at all," Anderson said. "But to think this can happen so close to where I have my horses and dogs is just amazing."
She said there was no food or water visible anywhere on the small farm.
St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman said his office was informed of the situation on March 4. On March 18 officers, joined by a veterinarian and investigator for the Humane Society, informed Berg that she must immediately provide water, food and shelter to all the animals remaining on the farm.
On March 24 the officers, the veterinarian and a Humane Society investigator returned to the farm and found their immediate demands had been met.
"The criteria we set on the 18th were met," Litman said Monday. "The animals were receiving food and care (on Friday). But we will continue to monitor the situation."
Berg could not be reached for comment.
Supervising Deputy Shannon Schultz in Virginia said at least six animals -- four horses, a cow and a goat -- were found dead at the scene, but it wasn't clear how long they had been dead. He said Berg, who no longer lived in the trailer house at the small farm, had recently gone through a divorce and might have been unable to keep up with the cost of feed. There was no electricity at the farm and no water available.
Several animals are still alive, including six horses, two cats, two ferrets, two goats and a dog, cow and donkey. One of the horses is pregnant and expected to foal within weeks.
"It was clear that starvation was an issue, and lack of water," Schultz said. "She (Berg) has good hay out there now and ample water ... and she wants to keep the animals. If she had not been able to care for them, we would have removed them from her."
Litman said his staff consulted with state Humane Society officials and the St. Louis County Attorney's Office to consider charges, including more-serious felony charges that could have led to Berg's arrest, but they decided the misdemeanor citation was appropriate.
Neighbors say the dead animals have been removed and that it appears that Berg is complying with orders to make the property suitable for the remaining animals.
Anderson said she is upset that the Sheriff's Office took 14 days before taking any serious action when they investigated the March 4 report of dead horses. But she said the deputy investigating might not have gone far enough onto the farm to see more than the one dead horse obvious from the driveway.
The Sheriff's Office issued a news release March 17 saying "numerous dead domestic animals" had been found dead on the property.
"In one case there was a newborn foal dead in the doorway to the shed, and that was the foal of one of the mares that was still alive," Anderson said. "So she had to walk over her dead foal to get into the only shelter she had available."
Litman said he believes his officers handled the case as best they could and took proper action to see the animals still alive were protected.
"We absolutely take these cases seriously. We still get way too many of them," Litman said. "And there are probably many we don't hear about."
Schultz said his office has received three or four reports of animal neglect so far this year.
"It gets worse in winter, and this was a pretty tough winter with all the snow," he said.