The Herald Bulletin

April 11, 2013

Summitville farm owner claims exaggerations

By Baylee Pulliam
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — The owner of a Boone Township farm where up to 150 animals were found dead and living ones were described by investigators as “walking skeletons,” says she thinks the conditions were exaggerated.

Carrie Ault, who owns the farm on County Road 1700 North near 350 West with Daniel W. Ault, said Thursday the condition of the surviving animals was being “blown way out of proportion,” and the media was “over-exaggerating” and was “slandering” the family. She declined further comment.

Maleah Stringer, president of the local Animal Protection League, said she disagrees.

“These animals were living, literally living and sleeping on piles of rotting bodies. And no food, no water, nothing,” she said. “This is not overblown. There’s no way they (the Aults) can talk their way out of this.”

The state Board of Animal Health was on-site most of Wednesday to examine the survivors, all of whom were found to be below normal body conditions, some with visible ribs and in need of supportive care, said spokeswoman Denise Derrer. A full report on their condition is expected soon.

Molly Gunason, who’s fostering the sheep, miniature horses, ponies and llama at her farm southeast of Anderson, said the animals had been “starved.” Friend Jessica Dean said they devoured a bale of hay — which should have lasted all day — in less than an hour Thursday (see sidebar).

Daniel Ault reportedly said he’d been “overwhelmed” between the farm, running his meat-processing business and the Strawtown Animal Auction in Noblesville, where Carrie Ault was listed as a registered agent at least until earlier this year.

“I can’t speak to what his mindset is,” Stringer said Wednesday. “When you’re throwing animals in buckets and leaving dead bodies, and allowing other creatures to live, sleep, eat, among the dead, that to me speaks a little bit more than overwhelmed.”

Multiple calls to Daniel Ault were not returned, but Wednesday, he told The Herald Bulletin’s news gathering partner WISH-TV the deaths were not preventable, and that some of the animals on his farm died four months ago and he didn’t have the necessary machinery to move and dispose of the carcasses.

“I have livestock,” Ault said. “I lose animals from stress and shipping. We lost some horses due to some disease we had in hay we had purchased.”

The number of dead animals climbed as high as 150 Wednesday night, when crews digging a hole to bury the carcasses of the originally estimated 75 to 100 dead, discovered a manure pit and septic tank, 20 feet wide by 10 feet deep, full of dead cows and poultry in varying stages of decay.

There was “no telling how many,” Madison County Sheriff’s Department Maj. Brian Bell said Thursday. “‘Lots’ is all I can tell you.”

The surviving animals caught by authorities have been placed in foster homes, although there are still some loose on the property.

“The outpouring of community support is the only bright spot in this,” Stringer said Thursday. “It restores at least a little faith in humanity.”

This isn’t Daniel Ault’s first brush with animal-related violations. He had ordinance violation citations for public nuisance and animal neglect in 2010, when he lived in Hamilton County.

As far as this incident is concerned, Richardson said the Madison County Prosecutor’s Office will determine what charges would be filed against Ault, but said they could include Class D felony animal cruelty and possibly child endangerment, if it’s determined children were staying in living quarters found inside the barn.

County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings said he will wait until the investigation is complete, but felony charges are likely on the way. He said it’s likely Ault will be facing many charges because of the sheer number of animals involved.

Cummings admitted some of the charges will be hard to prove, because farmers do have some latitude in how they care for livestock. He also said it will be difficult to press charges from a public safety viewpoint because the farm was isolated and wasn’t really affecting other people.

Reporter Jack Molitor contributed to this story.

Find Baylee Pulliam on Facebook, @BayleeNPulliam on Twitter or call 648-4250.