AUBURN, W.Va. — A Ritchie County woman is facing felony charges after sheriff’s deputies said they found 12 dead and 76 mistreated animals on her property.
On Jan. 18, deputies with the Ritchie County Sheriff’s Department were at a residence on Fredricks Road in Auburn to follow up on a complaint about an animal, according to a criminal complaint.
Deputies had responded to the residence for previous animal complaints, and had written the residence’s occupant, Nikki Herner, 33, of Auburn, several citations, due to “trespassing livestock,” and deputies had “spoken with her about care for her animals” during those times, deputies said.
For the Jan. 18 visit to the residence, deputies were “making arrangements to relinquish swine that she owned” when they saw two dogs tied up with no food or water present and “malnourished to where [deputies] could see their ribs,” as well as a “dead dog with a blue collar in a dog box” near the other dogs, according to the complaint.
Near the dogs, deputies “observed no footprints in the snow showing” that no one had come to take care of the dogs “since the snow Sunday night,” deputies said.
When deputies attempted to get a count of the swine in order to determine proper transportation, Herner had previously stated that she had “approximately 30,” but workers with the Ritchie County Humane Society were only “able to count 20 swine,” and they also noted that the other animals in Herner’s care “had no visible food or water,” according to the complaint.
Deputies were then able to get a search warrant for the residence after learning about the “conditions of the animals,” and “to further investigate into the crime of animal cruelty,” deputies said.
On Jan. 19, deputies executed the warrant and found multiple dead animals on the property under Herner’s care, including two pigs, one dog and two chickens outside; two pigs in a cage inside; one pig in a bedroom; a chicken in one of the bedrooms; a goose in one of the bedrooms; a dog in a bathroom; and a pig “in a tote” inside the residence totaling 12 deceased animals, according to the complaint.
Deputies noted that animals living outside of the residence had “began eating snow showing signs of thirst,” and in conditions which were “unlivable and covered in excrement,” deputies said.
Prior to deputies executing the search warrant, Herner “relinquished all animals to the Ritchie County Sheriff’s Department” which included 30 pigs, 13 ducks, 7 geese, four dogs, one turkey, as well as a black pig and a guinea which deputies “were unable to catch,” totaling 76 living animals, according to the complaint.
During a post-Miranda interview with the sheriff’s department, Herner stated that she “first noticed the deceased animals one month ago,” and that she was “waiting to gather them all up at once to burn them,” but that she “had not been staying at the address,” deputies said.
In that same interview, Herner stated that “she did not have running water but had means of collecting rain water for the animals,” and that she “understood the animals needed food and water to survive,” but that they “had died due to reasons beyond her control,” according to the complaint.
During the interview, Herner said that “she believed a neighbor had poisoned two of her dogs,” but deputies learned that Herner “had not made any reports in regard to the poisoning of her animals,” they said.
Herner has been charged with 12 counts of felony animal cruelty. She is being held in North Central Regional Jail on $12,000 bond.