Woman charged with animal cruelty

Published 10:38 pm Monday, June 6, 2011

A Suffolk woman was arrested Friday on charges of animal cruelty and failure to provide care for animals after Animal Control officers visited her home in May and allegedly found animals without water in moldy crates.

Elizabeth Ann Epps, 79, is a member of the Suffolk Humane Society’s board of directors, but a spokeswoman for the organization said Epps does not foster animals for the society.

Epps is charged with five counts of failure to provide care, five counts of animal cruelty, one count of keeping a dog more than six months old without a city license and one count of keeping a dog more than four months old without a rabies vaccination.

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After being contacted by phone Monday, Epps said she was in the hospital recovering from a stroke when the situation occurred, and the woman who normally helps her was out of town after a death in the family.

City spokeswoman Debbie George said Animal Control received a complaint about the care of animals at Epps’ house in the 400 block of King’s Fork Road. They responded there on May 12 and “were met with the smell of urine and feces,” George said.

According to George, officers found many animals in crates in the residence. Most of the animals had no water, and some of the crates had not been cleaned in so long that there was mold on some of the items in the crates, George said.

Epps says those statements are false. Only one or two cats had run out of water in the time she was gone, and there was no mold in any of the cages, she said.

Officers removed 13 cats from the residence. Ten ultimately were euthanized because they were so wild, “they can’t be handled and are therefore not adoptable,” George said.

One cat was adopted from the animal shelter, and two remain there awaiting adoption.

In addition, officers found 12 chickens confined in a shed, two chickens outside in a pen, seven adult geese and three goslings in the backyard, two male peacocks and five peacock hens, George added.

Epps said she signed herself out of the hospital when she learned nobody else was available to take care of the animals.

“It just sounds a lot worse than it was,” Epps said. “Nothing was beaten. Nothing was cruel. Nothing was dirty. I have never been cruel to anything.”

According to Kay Hurley, a spokeswoman for the Suffolk Humane Society, Epps was one of the founders and a board member of the original Suffolk SPCA in the early 1990s. She became a member of Suffolk Humane when that defunct organization donated three acres of land on U.S. Route 460 to Suffolk Humane in 2008.

“We are respectful of this member’s history of animal care in our city, but we are concerned about the serious nature of these charges,” Hurley said.

Hurley wrote that Epps does not do foster care for the organization or have any direct supervision of any of the animals.

“We feel certain that this case will be handled appropriately through the court system,” Hurley said, adding the organization also would monitor the situation internally and take steps determined to be necessary.

“Suffolk Humane remains absolutely committed to helping companion animals in our community,” Hurley said.