WESTPORT — The stench was overpowering, the wails piercing. Cows were trapped in barbed wire, emaciated dogs were kept on short chains in pens littered with broken glass. Pigs lived in the trash that they ate.
Animals at a tenant farm here had been living in deplorable conditions for months, probably years, said Kyle Quigley, the lead veterinarian for the Animal Rescue League of Boston.
“This is the worst I’ve ever seen, as far as scale and conditions,” he said Wednesday, a day after police announced they had found hundreds of dead and injured animals at the 71-acre property, tucked away down a winding dirt road.
The property is divided into 20 lots, each managed by individual tenants. Most of the 20 tenants, who raise livestock to sell or for personal consumption, had chronically neglected their animals and their lots, said Tony Cestodio, a Westport police detective sergeant.
“They clearly don’t care,” he said. “They don’t care about the condition of the animal; they don’t care about the condition of the lot.”
The tenants who did look after their parcels apparently ignored the abuse around them, he added.
“It would seem so because it’s pretty obvious to us that some of these animals needed help,” he said.
Officials identified the property owner as Westport resident Richard Medeiros, who was charged with animal cruelty in a similar incident six years ago, along with 10 tenants.
“It’s the same property, same issues,” Westport Police Detective Jeffrey Majewski said. “It’s just as bad.”
Medeiros could not be reached for comment. Police said he has not been cooperative in the past. A few months ago, police found three vehicles and eight firearms on the property they believed had been stolen, Majewski said.
Last week, police officers received a call from a tenant who said his neighbor’s two Rottweiler dogs had attacked his goats. When police arrived, they found that more than a dozen goats had been killed or wounded. The dogs, which showed signs of starvation, had escaped from their owner’s farm.
Police returned to the property Tuesday with a search warrant and found many of the animals, between 600 and 800 in all, were in dire health.
Almost every tenant had been burning trash on the property, which was riddled with metal, discarded furniture, and all manner of debris.
Majewski said abuse of this magnitude should have been prevented and blamed inspectors at the town’s Board of Health for not taking notice.
“We need other town departments like the Board of Health to step in and monitor these situations before they become huge disasters like this,” he said. “The town of Westport should be ashamed that this was allowed to continue.”
Officials at the Board of Health could not be reached for comment.
Cestodio said tenants will be allowed onto the property to feed their animals, but only when escorted by police. They will not be allowed to remove animals.
Medeiros and the renters will probably face criminal charges, Cestodio said. As the property owner, Medeiros is responsible for ensuring his tenants are obeying the law, he said.
Cestodio said he hopes the “penalties will be more stringent” because Medeiros is a repeat offender.
Donna Lambert, a Westport animal control officer, said the animals were subjected to terrible neglect.
“The conditions of the animals and the amount of suffering that’s going on — that’s most disturbing, the fact that you’re seeing your animal, you know the condition that it’s in, you know it needs medical attention,” she said. “We need to stop it.”