Social media abuzz about 'negelected' mule
It started with a mule.
It resulted in a drama that unfolded on social media.
Of the facts that are confirmed, the mule is named Levi. He lives in a pasture on Lanes Creek Road in Marshville. Levi is quite old, somewhere between 25 and 30 years old. The outline of his ribs are clearly visible. His hip bones protrude through the skin on his rump.
Photos of Levi's physical condition were posted on a Facebook page created Jan. 2, called "Save Levi the Neglected Mule." One of the page's authors, Shela Neisler, wrote that she passes Levi living alone in his pasture every day on her way to work. The boney mule appeared to be starving. Neighbors told her they feed him, Neisler wrote. The owner insisted Levi was cared for and refused to give up ownership. Union County Animal Control responded to a report and found Levi had food, water and shelter, therefore there was no reason to think Levi was neglected.
The answer did not satisfy the rescuer behind the Facebook page. She asked for community support. Neisler wrote to local television news stations, PETA and the Humane Society of the United States asking for help. People donated money to buy Levi grain.
"I can barely afford to feed mine with prices the way they are today but I have started buying extra so I can stop and feed this mule some grain on my way to work," one entry states.
Within weeks, hundreds of people joined the page. They added their support and encouragement. More photos of Levi were posted. People offered to give Levi a home if the owner would surrender him.
"Thank you so much for the support! You have giving me the confidence boost I needed to keep going to feed Levi no matter what! They will have to physically lock me up!" an entry states.
People began calling Union County Animal Control about Levi and the Facebook page dedicated to him.
"Please I ask everyone calling Union County about Levi to express concern as nicely as possible, as hard as it is not to become angry when seeing Levi, our fear is they may seize him and euthanize him without ever giving him a second chance at life," the page's author wrote Jan. 3.
The same day, the author complained about Levi belonging to a "cruel, coldhearted owner."
Another entry, also from Jan. 3, read "I have now had my life threatened and been ordered to stay away from Levi! What would you do?"
When his deputies responded to the animal welfare calls, deputies found Levi had food and water, Union County Sheriff Eddie Cathey said Thursday.
"And each time, the mule had food, water and shelter," Cathey said. "These folks from this Facebook page said someone was feeding him, but who put it there is not a concern for how the law is written. That's all I can look for because that's the only thing required by state statute and county ordinances."
After a local station reported on the campaign to save Levi, the owner said he would buy hay and pay for a vet visit.
"Oh no way we are going to stand for this! He is not correcting a problem, you are leaving Levi there for this to happen to him over and over again.... UGH SO UPSET!!!"
Page supporters began suggesting simply taking the mule. The page's author rejected the idea, noting that law enforcement would immediately suspect those trying to help Levi.
Meanwhile, Cathey said the mule's owner was cooperating with deputies. Last week, the owner reported someone had gone into Levi's barn, cut feed bags, spilled feed and cut water hoses. The owner asked Neisler to stop going onto his property to feed Levi. When it continued happening, Cathey said deputies were posted to ensure nothing happened to Levi or the owner's property.
"He put no trespassing signs and we warned her not to go on the property anymore," Cathey said.
Levi's supporters could not understand why there was no action taken.
"There is a spy among us, only using this page to get the information they need to help Levi stay neglected," a Tuesday post stated.
Wednesday, the Humane Society of the United States informed Neisler they would not get involved.
"Also they tell us that a rescue.. The Equine Rescue?? Is involved with this case and is working with the owner... THE OWNER!?!?? I am confused. Why not the ones trying to save Levi??"
Later on Wednesday, Neisler was arrested at her business. According to the Facebook page, Levi's owner took out a warrant and charged Neisler with second degree trespassing.
Thursday, the page's authors posted a link to a fundraising website. They are trying to raise $7,500 for Neisler's legal bills.
Also Thursday, the Union County Sheriff's Office issued a press release. The previous day, Levi's owner paid an equine veterinarian to check Levi's health.
"The results of the exam showed Levi’s health as good. The veterinarian recommended use of a different type of feed due to the age of Levi. The owner was happy to comply with the veterinarian’s recommendation," the release states. "The owner of Levi has given Union County Sheriff’s Office personnel permission to come onto the property at any time to check on Levi."
Cathey said his deputies will monitor Levi's condition.
"In the end, there is no law giving us the authority to take away an animal from its owner when it has plenty of water, food and shelter and the owner cooperates with us and gets the animal vet care," Cathey said.