Dogs seized from home of local animal advocate

Published 1:07 pm Thursday, May 11, 2017

By Shavonne Walker

SALISBURY — Rowan authorities seized multiple dogs from the home of a well-known animal advocate after complaints about the horrid conditions in which the animals were living.

Officials say Barbara Hart is said to have had malnourished dogs, overweight dogs and dogs with no food or water.

The Rowan County Sheriff’s Office executed the search warrant on Wednesday at 908 Lincolnton Road,and five dogs were taken from the property . Officials seized the dogs to prevent animal cruelty, the warrant said.

During the seizure, Rowan County Animal Control, Salisbury Fire Department’s Hazardous Materials Team and Salisbury Code Enforcement were also on hand.

Animal Control Enforcement Officer Eric Williams said in a report that he investigated an animal cruelty call on Monday at the Lincolnton Road home. The call was received at the shelter, and the caller said there was a strong odor coming from the property.

The caller also said six dogs living in a penned-in area full of feces were not being cared for. A wellness check was requested.

Williams’ report said when he went to the home he saw three dogs that did not look to be in distress or in need of medical attention. The only water he saw was a plastic kiddie pool that contained dirty green water, sticks and leaves. A neighbor let Williams onto their property so he could get a better look behind the house.

A neighbor said the smell was unbearable, especially during the summer, from feces that had piled up over the years and had never been cleaned. One dog Williams saw, a large brown one that had been scratching itself, had patches of fur missing and patches of thickened skin and open wounds. The dog also smelled bad. The officer said a smaller white dog was in need of grooming. He did not see any water for the dogs, and the area where they were contained had a lot of feces.

Williams said he’d gone to the property earlier and spoken with Hart about the same white dog, which had matted fur then. He directed her to have the dog groomed and she did, the report says.

Another neighbor said she noticed a small brown dog that was dead in the yard a few months ago, and the next day the dog was gone. The same neighbor saw at least 16 different cats in the home and was told by Hart there were more.

A neighbor said Hart only went by the house late at night a few nights a week and never stayed there. She was only seen entering the garage area and then leaving again. The same neighbor said there was a rat problem in the neighborhood, which they blamed on Hart’s property.

Williams said that, during a visit, Hart refused to let him inside the house or garage.

No formal charges have been filed at this time.

Hart has been among the most vocal and engaged animal advocates in Rowan County. She helped facilitate a discussion between Rowan County and philanthropist Christine Morykwas that led to construction of a new wing for cats at the Rowan County Animal Shelter. The county named a room in the cat wing for Hart.

In 2015, Hart was appointed to serve on a citizen task force whose job it was to come up with improvements to the animal shelter.

According to Rowan County Commissioner Craig Pierce, who has been heavily involved in the county’s animal control improvements, Duke Energy turned the power off to the house and removed the meter  on Wednesday.

“Animal Control went to the house last summer and the odor was so horrific that adjacent neighbors at the pool were complaining. At that time, we found conditions that were not as bad as the ones found more recently,” Pierce said.

He added that fire trucks were needed at the house Wednesday because “the odor was so strong  … you couldn’t go in without a respirator.”

The Post reached out to Hart who said she was unable to comment at this time.

Reporter Josh Bergeron contributed to this story.