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Wells Fargo is accused of animal neglect following foreclosure of Rhode Island farm animal sanctuary

December 9, 2009 |  4:53 pm

Allegations of animal neglect against an unlikely culprit -- Wells Fargo -- prompted a Rhode Island man to take the bank to court today. Wells Fargo recently foreclosed on Bonniedale Farm, a sanctuary that houses more than 130 rescued farm animals; Dan MacKenzie, the sanctuary's former owner, argued in court that the bank had failed to provide proper care for the animals that remained after he was evicted.

Although friends and animal lovers offered donations in the hopes of saving Bonniedale from foreclosure, the effort was too little, too late. MacKenzie on Monday was ordered off the premises, where he's cared for rescued animals including pigs, horses and turkeys for eight years. (According to MacKenzie, the foreclosure itself stems from a simple mistake -- he didn't know his mortgage had been sold and continued to pay the bank that originally held it.)  And since the order to leave was unexpected -- MacKenzie said he was given only 10 minutes to vacate the farm -- he had no time to provide for the animals' interim care.

Had he known the eviction was coming, he told the Providence Journal, he "would have tried to place the animals somewhere safe.... Apparently they're not animal people at all."

With MacKenzie gone, who would care for the animals?  His attorney, Guy Settipane, told the Journal that the bank claimed the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals would step in to look after them. But RISPCA President Dr. Ernest Finocchio contradicted this, saying Wells Fargo had declined his organization's offer of help. 

Finocchio visited Bonniedale on Tuesday and said he found horses and pigs with no water and observed strangers walking around the property.  Worse still, farm animals -- including llamas, pot-bellied pigs and birds -- are missing. It's unclear whether the missing animals were taken from the property by well-meaning temporary caregivers or by thieves. 

Either way, MacKenzie is understandably concerned for the welfare of the creatures, many of whom were rescued from abusive or neglectful owners and have nowhere else to go. 

An agreement reached in court today offers a temporary -- very temporary -- solution: Finocchio will care for and inspect the animals over the next 24 hours, after which he'll make a recommendation to the judge about the best way to care for them going forward. According to the Journal, students from the University of Rhode Island's agricultural program will also provide some care.

Settipane says MacKenzie hopes to find new adoptive homes for all the animals.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Video: WPRI via YouTube

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