A Swanville farmer is now facing animal cruelty charges after state officials uncovered the bodies of five pigs that he allegedly killed and buried a day before animal welfare agents were scheduled to inspect the farm and check on the animals.
Maine Animal Welfare Program agents descended on Ireland Hill Farms with shovels and a backhoe on March 28, the day after a neighbor and a local animal control officer called to report that Jerry Ireland was allegedly shooting his animals.
Agents removed one surviving pig from the property. That pig’s future was to be decided at a possession hearing on Monday morning at Belfast District Court.
Just prior to Ireland’s arrival for the hearing, two Belfast police officers entered the courthouse and handed Ireland’s attorney a summons notifying him that Ireland had been charged with 13 counts of cruelty to animals.
Maine Animal Welfare Director Liam Hughes declined to specify what prompted the charges, but did say officials found problems with the conditions in which the animals were kept. In some cases, those conditions may have “contributed to their deaths,” Hughes added.
Euthanizing one’s own animals in Maine is not a crime if it’s done humanely.
During Monday’s hearing, Ireland agreed to rescind any ownership he had over the pig taken by the state, and the state agreed to drop restitution claims for the cost of caring for the pig during the past month and a half.
Hughes said a local rescue group would find a new home for the pig. It’s a “relatively big, goofy, friendly pig,” he added.
Ireland has been embroiled in a long-running dispute with the state’s animal welfare division over the treatment of his livestock. Ireland, an Army veteran, also is the chief executive officer and president of the nonprofit group United Farmer Veterans of Maine.
Animal Welfare Program officials have said Ireland hasn’t been cooperative with their agents, ignoring phone calls, refusing visits and inspections, and believe his decision to kill the animals on the eve of an inspection was an effort to hide evidence of inadequate care.
“Mr. Ireland was treating all animals on his farm humanely,” said Ireland’s attorney, Hunter Tzovarras in an email Monday. “All of the animals were well fed and cared for during their time on the farm.”
The charges stem from a dispute over how to properly care for Mangalitsa pigs, a specialized breed that aren’t common in Maine, and animal welfare officers aren’t familiar with, Tzovarras argued. Ireland maintains the pigs were healthy and well treated.
“Mr. Ireland was cooperative with the animal welfare officers for many months, complying with their numerous demands,” Tzovarras said. “We plan to show through the court process that Mr. Ireland has broken no laws and never treated any animals cruelly.”
Ireland’s arraignment is scheduled for May 25. Ireland isn’t likely to attend, but is expected to plead not guilty through his attorney.
Hughes said more information about the investigation would become public at the arraignment.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.
BDN writer Abigail Curtis contributed to this report.
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