Metro

Animals allegedly abused at Westport farm find greener pastures

Tabitha Tallent with her rabbit, which was rescued from the Westport Tenant Farm. Cody Moore, her fiance, got the rabbit for her.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
Tabitha Tallent with her rabbit, which was rescued from the Westport Tenant Farm. Cody Moore, her fiance, got the rabbit for her.

In the late Sunday morning light, caretakers found Constellation cleaning a healthy, newborn lamb. The ewe hadn’t shown obvious signs of pregnancy. Yet here was her baby, resting on new hay in a well-built barn, a baby arriving just in time for the holidays.

A veterinary technician cleaned the lamb’s navel. His name would be Conrad.

By way of Interstate 95 , the sheep had been shipped from the fetid Westport Tenant Farm in Southeastern Massachusetts to Lollypop Farm, the Humane Society of Greater Rochester in upstate New York. She arrived in October after what seemed like an ark of animals had been liberated from the tenant farm.

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To the animals of Westport Tenant Farm, green pastures look like a new life.

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“Our biggest focus right now is just getting them that second chance,” said Ashley Zeh, associate director of communications at Lollypop. “Yes, they came from a situation that was very unfortunate, but the story doesn’t have to end there.”

It has taken several months and $1.4 million so far to rehabilitate and relocate the animals rescued from 465 American Legion Highway in Westport.

In July, more than 1,000 animals were found amid squalid conditions and rotting carcasses in one of the worst cases of animal cruelty ever documented in the Northeast. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals set up a temporary shelter — a safe place to recover — for the farm animals until early last month. Shelters in Massachusetts and nearby states have taken in fish and chickens, dogs and rabbits. Officials are still working to find homes for cattle and pigs.

A rescued ewe and her lamb, now in New York.

“As animals were surrendered, we were able to move animals into permanent placement,” said Tim Rickey, vice president of the ASPCA’s Field Investigations and Response team. “That was kind of an ongoing process from fairly early on into the operation right up to the end.”

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Photos from court files made public for the first time last month starkly illustrate the extent of neglect on the farm. Sickly animals lie surrounded by the dead and nearly dead. One goat bleeds from an open wound on its face. The eye of another dangles from its socket. Rows of jutting ribs on cattle sketch a map of starvation.

The owner of the farm, Richard Medeiros, remains the subject of an ongoing investigation by authorities. In the meantime, the town of Westport is seeking to prevent Medeiros’s tenants from bringing more animals onto his 70-acre lot.

The Westport Board of Health has also advised him to get rid of trash and fumigate because of an alleged rat infestation. At a meeting in late November of the Board of Health in Westport, Medeiros’s lawyer, Karen Augeri Benson, said the property owner addressed these allegations.

At a preliminary injunction hearing last Wednesday, the judge accepted an agreement between the town of Westport and Medeiros and more than 20 tenant farmers, to be entered as an order of the court. Medeiros’s tenants are expected to vacate the property by Dec. 16.

No animals can be brought onto the property and Medeiros will grant the animal inspector reasonable access to inspect it, along with making progress in cleaning his property and ceasing all use of unsafe buildings.

Rickey said the ASPCA has worked closely with town police and the state attorney general’s office, which is conducting its own investigation of the farm. “I have 100 percent confidence that they’re taking this case very seriously and they’re doing the work they need to do,” Rickey said.

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“I’m excited as everybody else is to get to that point where folks are held accountable, but it takes time, and we support them in their effort to do this right.”

Bristol Superior Court
The horrific scene at Westport Tenant Farm.

As for the tenant farmers who once occupied land on the farm, several owe thousands to the ASPCA for the care of their animals. Most tenants forfeited ownership rather than paying.

One of them was Emmanuel DeSousa. It was a difficult choice, said his attorney, C. Samuel Sutter, a former Bristol County district attorney and Fall River mayor. DeSousa had nine animals on lots at Westport: four cows, three dogs, and two horses. Only two of the dogs remain with him, according to court documents.

“He loved those horses, Sebastian and Jasmine,” Sutter said.

“But he had to make a decision with respect to his financial situation.”

Westport is creating an animal action committee to provide better oversight of animal health and welfare on farms in the town and to determine if additional powers are necessary to prevent episodes akin to what unfolded on the tenant farm, according to R. Michael Sullivan, chairman of the Westport Board of Selectmen.

Despite the stress of travel, despite persistent sickness among some, the woebegone animals of Westport have found their way.

For 21 goats, Tamerlaine Farm Animal Sanctuary in New Jersey is now home.

It was fate, according to Gabrielle Stubbert, cofounder and president at Tamerlaine.

When they got a call about taking in animals from the Westport farm, Tamerlaine’s owners were already expanding to take in goats.

After two months, the goats from Westport are starting to play again. They’re jumping and butting heads.

They aren’t as thin. A goat with a bum leg was given the moniker Captain Sparrow, after the movie pirate.

Another goat known as Huckleberry Finn doesn’t get too close to people. He arrived with a tag on his ear that said “Slaughter Only.” His caretakers removed it.

“It’s our job to show people how important they are,” Stubbert said. “They’re just as important as your dog or your cat or any animal that you cherish and love and is part of your family.”

In Fall River, nearly two dozens rabbits were taken to Forever Paws Animal Shelter.

Casey Fredette, shelter administrator, called it a leap of faith. The most rabbits they’d ever cared for at once was four. From Westport, they brought back a minivan full of bunnies.

One rabbit was placed for adoption at a PetSmart store. Cody Moore, 23, of Wareham, surprised his fiancee, Tabitha Tallent, 29, with the rabbit.

She had noticed the bunny while working at the pet store. He had been there for a while. and she knew he’d come from a hoarding situation. Now, he’s part of a household of rescues.

Other bunnies have found homes, too. A 16-pound New Zealand rabbit named Lulu was adopted by another family. She now travels to Florida like a snowbird with a retired couple.

“She’s living the comfortable life,” Fredette said.

Cristela Guerra can be reached at cristela.guerra@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @CristelaGuerra.