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Madison Couple Abandons Hundreds Of Animals

Asheville Citizen-Times
March 2, 2002

WANT TO HELP? The Madison County Animal Control office can be reached at 649-9416 or contact Animal Haven of Asheville at http://www.animalhaven.org/ or call 299-1635

MARSHALL - Elbert Roberts couldn't believe what he saw Saturday morning in the house he'd bought from which deputies had evicted the tenants the night before.

Rooting around the 50-year-old farmhouse were more than 100 pot-bellied pigs, about 20 dogs and some two dozens cats.

Scratching around on top of several inches of matted mud and animal droppings were numerous chickens and ducks.

But the most unbelievable thing, Roberts said, was that it used to be somebody's home.

"I can't see how people live like this," Roberts said, standing in the rain outside the house on Snow Bird Road. He had been on his cell phone, calling around to see who would take the pigs. "Me and my neighbors counted 122 (pigs)," he said. But he was unsure of the count because "I was running to the door to get some air."

Roberts has been trying to get into the house, he said, since he bought the foreclosed-upon property on the steps of the Madison County Courthouse Jan. 7. The tenants, former Marshall News-Record editor Hugh Koontz, refused to leave until deputies evicted him Friday night.

"He took a large number of dogs with him," Sheriff John Ledford said late Friday night. "But there are a large number of pot-bellied pigs and dogs left behind . . We're not sure at this time if Mr. Koontz is coming back or not, so we don't know if these animals are abandoned or not."

Madison County animal control agents took two truckloads of dogs and cats to the county animal shelter Saturday morning. Roberts said the agents gave him no indication they had plans for the pigs and assorted fowl.

Roberts' father, Eugene Roberts, lives next door and said he had complained to the country several times over the past three years about the deteriorating nature of the Koontz property. What the elder Roberts said was once a fine farm and farmhouse is now piled with trash, inside and outside.

Elbert Roberts said he bought the seven-acre farm to level the house so that his father and neighbors wouldn't have to put up with the site and stench anymore.

The Citizen-Times was unable to locate Koontz, 56, for comment Saturday. Koontz was editor at the News-Record from 1987-1989 and from 1990-1999. Koontz, a Democrat, made a name for himself in 1994 for his editorials chiding the Republican board of commissioners.

The News-Record was purchased by the Madison County Sentinel last year. Koontz now owns and edits Adventure Madison, a free outdoor-oriented newspaper.

Ledford said that by law, if Elbert Roberts wants to kennel the animals and charge Koontz, he can do that.

But what will happen to the pigs is anyone's guess. The shelter can't take them, Ledford said.

"Our animal shelter is not equipped to take the pigs, especially with the dogs and the animals that are already there," the sheriff said.

Interim Madison County Health Director Brian Repass said animal cruelty charges are being considered because of the conditions of the property.

Contact Clark at 232-5854 or Pclark@CITIZEN-TIMES.com

Jodie Munro O'Brien contributed to this story.

By Paul Clark

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