HARRISON COUNTY, Miss. (WLOX) - Over 100 animals are now being cared for by animal rescue groups after being found living in “deplorable conditions” at a Saucier property.
In all, 11 different species of animals were found at the property on Wright Road. The animals found include the following: 69 dogs, 7 cats, 1 pale fox, 1 hedgehog, 1 skunk, 15 birds, 1 monkey, 1 pig, 5 goats, 1 miniature donkey, and 6 miniature horses.
Authorities say they were executing a search warrant at the property and found the animals. They have not yet released details about the animals, only saying they were found in “deplorable living conditions.”
The raid was a shock to onlooking neighbors.
“My initial reaction was we had the cavalry coming in,” said Darlene, a neighbor, who didn’t want to use her last name. “I really thought it was a drug bust. ... Harrison County was coming in one-by-one and in came the horse trailers. So, we knew something was going down.”
Neighbors said the raid started in the morning and lasted late into the afternoon on Wednesday.
Sharon and Daniel Bertok have been arrested and charged with five counts of simple animal cruelty, which is a misdemeanor under Mississippi state law. They were released on bond.
“I don’t know them,” Darlene added. “I don’t think many people around here do know them. We knew they had animals. We assumed everything was OK and they took care of them.”
Harrison County Sheriff Troy Peterson said the livestock was outside. Most of the other animals were inside of the house.
One young neighbor, Jocelyn, said she was able to see the conditions first hand.
“I wasn’t allowed to go in there because I said some rude stuff about the house... and it wasn’t my fault really because they just had too many animals. And, that was their fault. I ran to my mom and I was like, ‘Wow, they have a whole lot of pets up in there.’ ”
Darlene added, “I wish the people the best but, in the same respect, they have to understand that’s a lot of animals. And no one should have that many animals under one roof.”
Because they are all part of the investigation, images of the animals were not made available.
Harrison County Animal Control, the Humane Society of South Mississippi, and Wild at Heart Rescue all worked together to remove the animals from the property. They are now being cared for by those three organizations.
Sheriff Troy Peterson says most of the animals were in good shape, but several of the domesticated animals may have to be euthanized.
Further information about the condition of the animals will not be available until all of them are evaluated by a veterinarian.
Attorney Michael Crosby has been hired by Sharon and Daniel Bertok to represent them in this animal cruelty case. He reached out to WLOX Thursday evening to defend the couple, saying they’re animal lovers who “dedicated their lives to giving love and care to rescued animals, all of which were spayed and neutered.”
“The only injured or sick animals, were the ones that came that way, and they were doctored back to health. All were seen by vets and up to date on their shots,” Crosby said in a statement. “The dogs slept in cages at night and were let out daily, except for the eight that slept in the bed with the couple. The cages were cleaned daily, and there was an area between the cages and the outside, where the dogs would do their business on the way out, which needed to be cleaned, but with her back injury and his efforts to expand the house, that one area was not clean.”
The Mississippi Dog and Cat Protection Law states:
If a person shall intentionally or with criminal negligence wound, deprive of adequate shelter, food or water, or carry or confine in a cruel manner, any domesticated dog or cat, or cause any person to do the same, then he or she shall be guilty of the offense of simple cruelty to a dog or cat. A person who is convicted of the offense of simple cruelty to a dog or cat shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and fined not more than One Thousand Dollars ($ 1,000.00), or imprisoned not more than six (6) months, or both.
For animals that are not dogs or cats, the law says:
If any person shall carry, or cause to be carried by hand or in or upon any vehicle or other conveyance, any creature other than a dog or cat in a cruel or inhuman manner, he shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.