This article contains descriptions and photos of animal cruelty which some may find disturbing. Reader discretion is advised.
ASHEBORO N.C. – Just over a year ago, the Happy Hills Animal Foundation rescued a group of eight poodles from what they called “a backyard breeding situation that had gone horribly wrong.” Today, all eight poodles have new homes, and the criminal case is wrapping up.
In March of 2022, Animal Control officers were called out for several dogs running loose around a neighborhood in Sophia. The owner of the property, identified by the Sheriff’s Office as Michael Alan Meier, was issued an animal cruelty notice by Randolph County Animal Services.
To comply with the terms of that notice, Meier arranged to surrender the dogs to the Happy Hills Animal Foundation, a local state licensed shelter facility located in Staley. On April 2nd, 2022, workers and volunteers from Happy Hills arrived and picked up eight purebred standard poodles.
During the rescue one female poodle collapsed and had to be rushed off for emergency veterinary care, which was later found to be the result of a low heart rate and blood sugar, internal parasites, anemia, as well as extreme emaciation with the dog weighing only half of the normal weight of a poodle that age.
After getting the animals back to the foundation’s office and cleaned up, the condition of the dogs was described as “anemic, emaciated, dehydrated, with extreme coat matting, and a heavy load of internal parasites.”
“Many were suffering from eye infections, toes that had been chewed off from untreated injuries and one young male (Claude) had literally chewed off (eaten) 75 percent of his left rear foot. After months of treatment and attempts to use medications to control pain, Claude had three separate surgical procedures ending with a total “to the hip” amputation of his left hind leg.”Happy Hills Animal Foundation – Newsletter
Throughout April of 2022, the Happy Hills Animal Foundation shared photos and veterinary records with both Randolph County Animal Services and the Sheriff’s Office which led to a criminal investigation.
On April 26th, 2022, after consulting with the District Attorney’s Office, the Sheriff’s Office was able to obtain warrants for eight counts of felony cruelty to animals against Meier, who turned himself into the Randolph County Jail on April 28, 2022. A year later, that case has almost finished working its way through the court system.
According to court records, the eight counts were split into three separate cases. One of the cases containing two counts was dismissed on April 11th, 2023. The other two remaining cases, both containing three counts, have been continued until June 16th, 2023, when Meier is expected to enter a guilty plea as a part of a plea agreement to have the charges reduced to four misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty.
Happy Hills expressed disappointment with the outcome of the case, saying in a newsletter that it was one of the most severe cases of Neglect / Cruelty that many of them have witnessed in the past 41 years.
In a phone call, Lisa Sparks, Vice President at Happy Hills Animal Foundation said, “it was a shame that the judge didn’t think state’s evidence met the requirements for felony charges at the probable cause hearing,” a necessary step to proceed with a felony prosecution in NC.
Under North Carolina General Statute § 14-360, cruelty/neglect is a class 1 misdemeanor. For the charge to rise to the level of a felony the state must show that the person “maliciously killed, any animal by intentional deprivation of necessary sustenance.”
“Those state statues really need to be updated,” said Sparks, who said what defined animal cruelty twenty-five years ago doesn’t account for the standards of how animals are cared for today.
The District Attorney’s Office was unable to comment as the case is still on-going.
All eight of the poodles, Harper, Dakota, Riley, Remi, Nora, Claude, Mocha, and Sophie are healthy and recovering, and have all found new homes.
In an email the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office said they are “relieved to know that the poodles have been placed in good homes.”
“Our office takes cases of animal cruelty very seriously and are thankful there are resources in our county to assist with the rescue of abused animals,” said Aundrea Azelton, Chief Deputy with the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office.
You can learn more about the Happy Hills Animal Foundation on its website.
This article is an update from our previous reporting on April 29th, 2022. To read the full back-story check out the previous article linked below.