MAYFIELD - Authorities expect to spend the next three days relocating more than 300 animals from the non-profit Kelly's Haven for Friends and Animals, as the overwhelmed owner faces charges of welfare fraud and animal neglect.
Susan Kelly, the owner of the no-kill shelter that sits on 35 acres on Route 343, has agreed to relinquish most of her animals to authorities. She faces charges of failure to provide proper food and sustenance under the state Agriculture and Markets Law, first-degree filing a false instrument, grand larceny and welfare fraud.
On Monday, the Sheriff's Department and more than a dozen workers from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals arrived at the property between 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. as authorities executed a search warrant.
A worker from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, above, examines a cow at Kelly’s Haven in Mayfield this morning.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
The hundreds of animals included pheasants, geese, ducks, chickens, cats, dogs, steer, horses, parrots and goats.
Investigator Christina VanValkenburgh said the Sheriff's Department had been investigating the shelter for at least a year, after receiving several complaints.
"When the welfare fraud charges came together, that's when we really got involved. There was no probable cause before to get a search warrant," VanValkenburgh said.
VanValkenburgh said Kelly filed a false applications with the Department of Social Services for food stamps, heating assistance and Medicaid.
"Her application was false. She had listed on there that she was not getting any income and she was paying some of her personal bills from Kelly's Haven all while she was collecting food stamps, Medicaid and HEAP benefits," VanValkenburgh said.
She said the grand larceny charge stems from more than $4,000 in government assistance Kelly received.
On Monday, the ASPCA team was mapping out the location, which includes several smaller structures that house dogs and cats, a two-story house, pond, and a barn.
"We'll map out the scene and conduct a full-scene investigation and identify each enclosure," said ASPCA Northeast Field Investigations and Response Director Jeffrey Eyre. "Each animal will have an assigned number. The vet will examine each animal and draw blood and do testing."
Eyre said he could not comment on the condition of the animals because he is not a veterinarian, but he said the conditions inside the house, in which several birds and dogs were kept, were unsanitary.
"They were pretty bad. There was a great deal of cobwebs and uncleanliness and a strong odor," he said.
VanValkenburgh said the conditions were "unlivable" and "deplorable" and that Kelly had become "overwhelmed."
Kelly started caring for dogs when her father died in 1999 and left her with 11 dogs. From there the shelter grew as people dropped off more and more animals.
Volunteers at the scene said Kelly has a good heart.
Neighbor Bernice Clark, whose property is adjacent to the farm, said she notices people drop of animals at least twice a week, but she said Kelly is a nice person who cares for animals.
"She tried very hard with the animals," Clark said. "She had a lot of people helping her."
Linda Kerns said she has known Kelly for the past four years. Kerns works at Price Chopper and said every day at 11 a.m. Kelly showed up to fill a truck full of the store's discarded foods such as bread, bagels, fruits and lettuce.
Kerns said she has many other friends who volunteered their time to help out and that Kelly was responsible when adopting out pets, requiring follow-up visits.
"These animals are not being neglected. I think she just got overwhelmed by people dropping animals off," Kerns said. "She just took them in. She was very protective of her animals."
Randy Rose whose company worked on building a three-tiered porch on the back of Kelly's house, said he didn't think Kelly would intentionally harm any of the animals, but said he wasn't surprised about the arrest.
"It certainly doesn't remind you of anything you see on TV," Rose said. "I'm not surprised. A lot of people were rude to her."
Sarah McDaniel, a wildlife rehabilitator, educator and general falconer from Johnstown took 17 birds with her Monday - including a cockatoo, cockatiels, and other parrots - and said she'd be headed back today to pick up more.
She said she had not yet examined the birds, but she observed some of the birds were in critical condition and suffering from dehydration, anemia, respiratory distress and seizures.
"Each will require care and rehabilitation prior to placement," McDaniel said.
The ASPCA is working to place the animals at shelters and rescues.
VanValkenburgh said Kelly will be permitted to keep some of the dogs and a bird.
She said she did not know yet if the non-profit will be disbanded.
"I'm not sure what she is going to do with it. That would be something up to her. We're still working on an investigation," VanValkenburgh said.
Amanda Whistle can be reached at gloversville @leaderherald.com.