Almost two weeks after county officials found dozens of starving and infected pigs, dogs, cats and chickens on a farm north of Brooksville, the state attorney's office decided to charge the farm's former owner, Luddie Worley, with one count of cruelty to animals.
Anthony Tatti, assistant state attorney, said the felony charge was filed Tuesday afternoon after officials reviewed information that had been provided by Jim Varn, director of Hernando County Animal Control.
Varn and members of his staff went to Worley's 10-acre farm at 14660 Buczak Road after neighbors called Animal Control on March 13 to report neglected livestock.
"Having seen some of the animals on that farm, I have to agree with the felony charges," Varn said Tuesday. "Animals are at the mercy of whoever is handling them, and they do feel pain and suffering. It's hard for me to imagine someone letting something like this happen."
Worley, 57, could not be reached for comment Tuesday, and officials at the Sumter Correctional Institute where he works said he had not been in Tuesday.
Worley was living at another address when Animal Control responded to the call, Varn said. He had left about three pigs, 10 cats and 19 roosters behind.
According to Al Gray, county environmental health coordinator, Worley had defaulted on a loan and was forced to vacate the farm before it was repossessed by the state.
However, neighbors said Worley moved several animals from the farm. A subsequent search of Worley's new residence, off Peach Orchard Road, in mid-March revealed about 100 head of cattle.
When questioned after the animals were found, Worley did not say why he moved some from his old farm but left others behind. Varn said Worley had planned to slaughter the pigs and chickens on the Buczak farm.
"He told us they were going to the slaughterhouse, but why did he leave them for so long? Why didn't he just go ahead and butcher them himself?" Varn said. "That would have been the merciful thing to do."
Varn said the animals he saw would not have been appetizing to eat, but he did not know what Worley was planning to do with them.
Gray said Worley has removed all of the animal carcasses and rotting garbage that was used for pig feed from his old farm, and that, as of Tuesday, the county environmental health office had closed its file on the case. Varn also said he and a state health inspector visited Worley's new farm Friday and learned Worley had sold all of his livestock.
The felony charge Worley faces carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
_ Information from Times files was used in this report.