SORRENTO — Officials with the state’s animal welfare department seized 44 animals from a farmer on Dec. 5, citing concerns about how they were housed and fed.
Investigators took 14 sheep, 22 pigs and eight rats from the home of Marc Calcia, 51. According to Liam Hughes, the director of the state’s animal welfare program, the action followed nearly year-long attempts by his department to bring Calcia’s farm into compliance with the law.
Malnutrition and tight living spaces were the main issues behind the decision to seize the animals.
“Mostly it was dealing with inhumane and unclean living conditions,” Hughes said. “They were in too small a space, they were not able to get out of their own feces or urine. They weren’t able to have a clean place to eat food or drink water.”
Deputy District Attorney Toff Toffolon said Calcia faces criminal animal cruelty charges in the case, as well as five counts of civil animal cruelty from events earlier this year that led up to the seizure of Calcia’s animals.
“The state humane agent works very hard with folks before it escalates to criminal charges,” Toffolon said.
Calcia, reached by phone on Tuesday, disputed these claims, calling them “inaccurate.”
He said he had been working with the animal welfare agent, as well as an agent from Department of Agriculture Compliance and the United States Department of Agriculture to ensure his farm met legal standards.
He’s confident he will get his animals back.
“We’ve used the same system for years on end,” Calcia said.
Calcia said he’d spoken to the USDA and compliance officers both before and after the seizures last week, and — according to Calcia — those officers told him they believed he was in compliance with the law. Before the animals were seized, Calcia said he had been working with the welfare agent and had no warning that the animals might be taken.
Hughes disputed both of these accounts. The compliance officer passed the case along to the welfare investigators, he said, while the USDA official was working with Calcia on a separate, waste-related case.
Calcia said he believes the welfare agent was trying to stop him from killing pigs on the farm, and alleges that the welfare agent works with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.
“We told him about some pigs we wanted to ship to slaughter,” Calcia said, “and the next thing we know, he seized them.”
Hughes said the allegation about PETA “is just something that Marc has been claiming since he was ordered to make improvements to his property that he was refusing to do.”
“The agent in question charged a person helping Marc with animal cruelty by hitting a pig in the face with a two-by-four in front of the agent,” Hughes said. “Since then [Calcia] has been making many extraordinary claims to remove the agent from the case, none of which can be confirmed.
“The agent has acted professionally with Marc and I have been to the property with the agent as well as the state veterinarian and other agents, that have confirmed the issues the initial agent found.”
Since being taken into custody, state officials are testing the animals’ health and will supply their findings to the District Attorney’s Office.
Hughes said the animals’ conditions have improved in the week that they’ve been in state custody. Some of the rats gave birth to litters, and all the animals responded positively to treatments. They’re being held at an undisclosed location, in accordance with the department’s standard practices.
Investigators left behind alpacas, ducks, cows and turkeys, Hughes said, because the living conditions for those animals met state requirements. Those animals are still being monitored and will be seized if their living conditions worsen.
Calcia also is facing felony charges for reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon. According to Toffolon, some of Calcia’s sheep were in a public road on Nov. 4 and a neighbor had to stop his car to avoid them. Calcia came out, according to Toffolon, and “smashed” the person’s windshield with a long-handled garden instrument.
Calcia then “tried to induce the neighbor by gesture to get out of his car and fight,” Toffolon said.
Calcia was charged with four counts of animal cruelty in 2011 and fined $500. That case was focused on treatment of goats, pigs and poultry. He also was cited by the Department of Environmental Protection for waste he kept on site at his home. He works as a garbage hauler.
According to Hughes, issues such as this are not common at farms across the state, but the animal welfare department keeps busy with various complaints. The same week as the seizures in Sorrento, he said, there were two other search warrants that the department acted on.
“Many of the farmers across the state take great strides and pride when they raise animals,” Hughes said. “Most farmers know: happy animals produce better … We have a lot of really good farmers across the state. We’re not anti-farms. We’re basically making sure the animals are getting good care.”