ANDERSON — County Commissioner Steffanie Owens, R-South District, has wanted to update Madison County's animal protection laws since she took office in 2011.
But it was a horrific case of animal cruelty discovered on a Boone Township farm near Summitville early this spring that pushed humane care of animals to the forefront.
"That was the straw that broke the camel's back," said Maleah Stringer, executive director of the Animal Protection League, who also has been lobbying stricter animal protection laws. "That situation was so bad, so horrific, it kind of opened the door to get something done."
Owens and Madison County Board of Commissioners President John Richwine, R-North District, voted for the new law; Jeff Hardin, D-Middle District, was not at Tuesday's commissioners meeting. The county's current ordinance was adopted in 1978.
What both Owens and Stringer said they particularly like about the ordinance is that it clearly defines the duties and responsibilities of animal owners, "harborers," and caregivers have to provide adequate food and water, and clean and safe shelter.
The new law also clearly defines cruelty, abuse, neglect and abandonment of animals, and makes it illegal to train, promote, umpire or be a spectator at an event where animals are fighting.
Any person who violates cruelty provisions of the law may be charged with a Class B infraction and fined up to $500 per occurrence if convicted; anyone who violates other sections of the law could be charged with a Class C infraction, and fined up to $300 per occurrence if convicted.
Stringer said the new ordinance is important "because animal abuse is wrong, it's against the law and, for me, is morally and spiritually wrong, and the people who do it need to be punished."
The Madison County Sheriff's Department will have responsibility for enforcing the law. Although it will only apply to unincorporated areas of the county, Owens said she hoped cities and towns adopt similar ordinances if they don't already have them.
"Do I think this is going to stop animal abuse? No," Owens said, "but I think it can help us clean up our county."
The case against Daniel and Carrie Ault, meanwhile, is slowly working its way through the county court system.
Responding to neighbor complaints on April 9, authorities discovered 171 dead and rotting animals, including horses, sheep, goats, cows and rabbits in several barns on farm property the Aults own on County Road 1700 North near 350 West near Summitville.
Living among the carcasses and feces, 165 other animals were found still alive, although investigators described many of them as "walking skeletons."
A massive cleanup effort to bury the dead, care for the living, and pay for heavy equipment, worker overtime and provide security at the farm cost the county an estimated $30,000.
Daniel Ault told police he'd become "overwhelmed" with trying to care for the animals, helping with the Strawtown Auction and running a meat-packing business in Grant County.
Daniel and Carrie Ault, who are co-defendants in the case, were charged with 96 counts of improper disposal of a dead animal, a Class D felony; 15 counts of cruelty to an animal, a Class A misdemeanor; and two counts of neglect of a dependent child, a Class D felony.
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How to File a Complaint The Madison County Sheriff's Department is charged with enforcing the new animal protection ordinance. If you have reason to think animals are being mistreated, contact the sheriff's department at: 642-0221.