Animal abuse on Lyon Ranch

Almost 100 dogs, cats taken in morning raid

A three-month investigation into a property owner who had been housing pets, many for an animal rescue organization, concluded with almost 100 animals being seized and criminal charges expected to be filed, Sheriff Alex Hodge said early Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s a very serious case of animal abuse and cruelty,” he said. “Many of the volunteers who do things like this all over the country have said they’ve never seen anything like this before. They’re shocked by the magnitude of abuse.”

The animals were being housed in seven structures — including three large boats — on the 161-acre property of David and Mary Ellen Senna on Lyon Ranch Road in the Johnson Community, just outside of Ellisville.

More than 50 people from The Humane Society of the United States, the Jones County Sheriff’s Department, rescue groups, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, veterinarians and volunteers from around the country were working to locate and tend to the animals that were being housed on the property.

“It’s well-kept and there’s a lot of interesting eye candy,” Hodge said, referring to a Ferris wheel, a caboose, a pirate ship and steamboat on two of the three lakes and statues that are spread across the property. “You just never know what’s going on behind closed doors. These animals are in seriously deplorable conditions.”

“It just tears your heart out,” said Hodge, a former K9 handler with the Mississippi Highway Patrol. “It’s gross and disturbing, some of the stuff we witnessed. One little dog I just saw had his back end eaten out by maggots.”

Hodge said his department got a tip about possible abuse on the property about three months ago. The JCSD was contacted by SCAR, which had taken animals there to be cared for when its no-kill facility in the Powers Community was overrun with dogs and cats. 

But when volunteers came there to bring animals, they started seeing “disturbing evidence” that the animals were not in good conditions, Hodge said. 

The JCSD then worked with SCAR to build a case against the property owner. A search-and-seizure warrant was served at the property at about 7 a.m. Wednesday. At least 65 dogs and 30 cats were seized from what was described as a “large-scale cruelty situation.” Humane Society officials said the animals appeared to be suffering from a lack of veterinary care and “housed in conditions typically seen in severe neglect situations.”

The animals were going to be transported to a nearby location, where they were to be examined by veterinarians and receive necessary treatment. RedRover responders were assisting with the transport and care. A source said it was going to take a 40,000-square-foot facility to house the animals temporarily.

“All animals should have access to adequate veterinary care and none should be forced to live in conditions like we have seen today,” said Sára Varsa, vice president of the Humane Society of the United States Animal Rescue Team.

The assistance of the Humane Society of the United States was requested by the JCSD after concerns about the welfare of animals on the property were raised by representatives of SCAR. 

“The Jones County Sheriff’s Department works to give the citizens of Jones County a safe place to live, and that is not limited to the people,” Hodge said. “‘Our pets are our family and deserve a healthy atmosphere. Situations like these, though this particular incident seems quite massive, are more than unfortunate, they are unfair and unnecessary. My department heeded the urgency from SCAR about these animals and took action with the help of the Humane Society of the United States.”

A “generous donation” has been made by the Alex and Elisabeth Lewyt Charitable Trust to support the expert care and supplies needed for the rescued animals.

Mary Ellen Senne was also a regular contributor to SCAR in addition to taking in animals when its facility couldn’t house them.

She may have had good intentions, Hodge agreed, but “nothing can justify this kind of behavior,” he said. “It’s the worst I’ve seen. There’s no way they didn’t know it was wrong. 

“We provided the evidence to get a warrant and indictments … and it needs to be escalated to a felony.”

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