More questions than answers have surfaced regarding the carnage found Monday morning on the site of the former Loonie Farms Animal Rescue facility in Ludowici.
Area animal-rescue organization representatives — who were told Sunday that the shelter owner was closing the operation — were stunned to find the remains of dozens of animals. Members of the groups had gone to the shelter to pick up the homeless pets and place them at other care facilities.
After retrieving a few animals, kennels and equipment, Kim Hankerson, vice president of Animal Haven of Hope Society, returned to Loonie Farms on Monday to gather items and break down a few more kennels.
“The day she called me, she sat there and cried with me,” Hankerson said of the Sunday conversation she had with Christiane Judd, who had been running Loonie Farms on land leased from James and Tina Guest.
“She took pictures with me and she told me how much she loved animals; told me that this rescue was her dream. And then the next day … I didn’t go there looking for things. I was just there to collect the rest of the animals and to get the cages and kennels. It was by chance that I took a walk by the back road and I just stumbled across it. I came across the horse thing first and I was saying, ‘Oh my God,’ and then everywhere I stepped was just bones. I walked up to the wheel barrow and it was covered with a tarp and I kept saying to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, please don’t be what I think you are’ and pulled off the tarp and …”
The more Hankerson walked around, the more carcasses and remains she discovered.
James and Christiane Judd opened Loonie Farms in 2010 and, for many, it was a much-needed rescue operation in an area struggling with an overpopulation of stray dogs and no county-run facility.
In the beginning, things seemed to go well. Loonie Farms became involved with local animal-rescue groups and, according to its Facebook page, was successful in placing many animals in happy new homes.
When other facilities in Liberty and Long counties were unable to take in any more strays, Loonie Farms was there to assist. When Debbie Lanier had to close her rescue operation, she said she transferred 35 of her dogs to Loonie Farms. They even partnered with a local veterinarian and held their first successful rabies clinic in October in front of the county courthouse.
But somewhere, somehow, things started to go sour and, according to Hankerson, it started about six months ago.
“We noticed that she was getting in over her head,” Hankerson said. “With two counties taking their animals there, and she was getting the worst of the worst animals, plus she was taking in animals on her own. I think she got in way over her head.”
Hankerson said she was among the people who fully trusted the Judds. She even gave one of her personal dogs to Christiane Judd to protect her livestock. He was one of the fortunate animals Hankerson found alive — albeit in terrible shape — when she went to the 10-acre farm Sunday.
She said Christiane started to refuse other agencies’ help.
“I told her that I had an extensive list of rescues that would help,” she said. “We offered food; we offered medical care; we offered to have adopt-a-thons; we offered to take animals in. I offered all of those things, but she was paranoid from the very beginning that people were trying to tell her what to do and how to run her rescue.
“Each time someone would come in, she would alienate them because she didn’t want to be told what to do. People would come to bring donations to the gate and she wouldn’t let them in. If someone is bringing you food for your animals and you won’t let them in the gate, that is kind of a red flag that something is going on.”
That behavior prompted many area residents to file complaints against the facility.
Long County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Tom Sollosi said a joint investigation was conducted at the facility with the Department of Agriculture, the Secretary of State, the LCSO and the GBI.
GBI Special Agent in Charge Michael McDaniel said his department was out there about a month and a half ago.
“We assisted the Long County Sheriff’s Office and the search warrant was prepared and executed by the Department of Agriculture and the Secretary of State office,” he said. “They were the lead agencies on it. We just merely assisted. We had one agent there that assisted them.”
He said the investigation being conducted was on allegations of animal abuse and cruelty.
“It was noted that two horses and a donkey were suffering from malnutrition and were located on the premises,” he said.
The Department of Agriculture called out a representative who examined the horses and donkey, which then were transferred to someone who could provide better care for the animals.
“There were approximately 20 dogs located on the premises and, according to the agent, they appeared to be in good condition,” McDaniel said. “Our agent did note that there were several dead animal carcasses located in the rear portion of the land. They couldn’t determine how many, but they let the Department of Agriculture reps know about this. “
According to McDaniel, the Department of Agriculture representative instructed Judd about the proper disposal of the animals as well as other violations that were noted.
But for Hankerson, that just leads to more questions.
“That is where my question is,” she said. “They knew this was going on. Why didn’t they do something? Why wasn’t she immediately closed? Why weren’t these animals immediately distributed somewhere else? No animal should have been left on that property after that moment. If they found what we saw or even a fraction of what we saw, why was she not closed down?”
The Department of Agriculture’s Animal Protection Section is the agency that issues animal-rescue licenses and maintains records of each facility in the state, according to team.georgia.gov.
Hankerson said other rescues and animal organizations rely on the reports issued by the Department of Agriculture to ensure they are doing business with reputable organizations.
“That is my big worry,” Hankerson said. “If the Department of Agriculture knew this, and other rescues and everyone is checking with the Department of Agriculture and they were given a good report about her and people relied on that information then … the ultimate blame is Christiane, but the Department of Agriculture is the safety net. Where were they? Everyone would count on those records.”
The Courier has filed an open-records request with the Department of Agriculture regarding Loonie Farms and is awaiting a reply from the agency.
Sollosi said they still are looking for Christiane Judd.
“The evidence is there and it is substantial,” he said. “We just want to wait and see if we can locate her before we take any more steps. Warrants will be taken out if she is still in the country.”
Anyone with information on Judd should call 545-2118.
James Judd recently was re-arrested for dealing and receiving stolen merchandise. Some of the stolen property was recovered at Loonie Farms.