JEFFERSON-When animal cruelty investigators arrived at an Ashe Lake residence on Valentine’s Day last winter to check on the status of a reportedly neglected animal, they said they found a severely emaciated potbelly pig shivering and crying in a very small enclosure.
The pig, which was affectionately known as “Pig-Pig” to neighbors, was covered in snow. Ice sickles clung to his back. He was screaming. He was crying. The pig would not eat or drink water, said officers. By the time investigators arrived on the scene, they said “Pig-Pig” had buried his snout into the frozen earth. The temperature hovered around 15 degrees above zero on Feb. 14, 2016. A quick arctic burst of winter weather created whiteout conditions in the West Jefferson resort community. Officers said they quickly wrapped “Pig-Pig” in several blankets in a desperate attempt to restore his core body temperature before transporting him to animal control.
Despite their efforts, officers said the animal succumbed to complications that resulted from exposure. He died the following morning.
During the course of the failed attempt to rescue the animal, “Pig-Pig’s” owner, 26-year-old Brooke Michelle Severt, was nowhere to be found, said authorities.
In the coming days, however, Severt would learn of the pig’s fate and consequently charged with cruelty to an animal.
Severt’s trial began Monday afternoon following the impaneling of the jury. The district attorney’s office presented three witnesses during the course of the testimony. Severt was not one of those to take to the stand, as she reserves the right to refrain from any type of self-incrimination.
During the opening statements portion of the trial, the district attorney’s office presented a timeline of events that led up to the pig’s death.
Following up on a neighbor’s complaint, Animal Control Director Joe Testerman and Officer Jeremy Eller responded to Severt’s residence on Feb. 14, 2016 where they reportedly discovered an underweight pig being kept in freezing conditions. The pig was being housed in a small homemade enclosure that appeared to be comprised of a homemade bed frame. There were no footprints or tire marks embedded within the freshly deposited snow. No one was home at the time of the officer’s arrival. The pig laid in the snow, barely clinging to life.
Severt’s attorney, Jak Reeves, said the case before the jury presented a complicated series of circumstances that culminated in the unfortunate passing of a family pet. He said the case is an example of youthful indiscretion and not criminal neglect.
Reeves said Severt along with her girlfriend left West Jefferson on Feb. 13, 2016 to travel to South Carolina because a near relative was having a baby.
“They gave ‘Pig-Pig’ fresh food and water before they left,” Reeves told the jury. “But guess what? Being a pig, ‘Pig-Pig’ ate all of the food and water. They had planned to come back. They didn’t see any issue at all.”
When Severt and her girlfriend reached Wilkes County the following day, a steady and sudden snow had begun to fall, so they decided to wait out the storm at the Addison Inn hotel, said Reeves.
“When they came home the next day, they found a note on their door to call animal control,” said Reeves. “The officers wouldn’t even tell them what was going on. My client was devastated. This had come out of the blue. Not only was her animal dead, but she was being charged.”
Katlyn Farmer was the second witness presented by the state. Her testimony was used to corroborate the state’s assertion that Severt’s alleged neglect of the pig warranted felony level charges.
Farmer was a neighbor of Severt. She was the one who called animal control to investigate “Pig-Pig’s” condition.
Farmer said she had become acquainted with Severt through their children. On Feb. 14, Farmer went to Severt’s house to drop off some “hand-me downs” for her children. After knocking on her door to no avail, Farmer went around the house to check on the pig.
“I was shocked,” said Farmer. “Pig-Pig didn’t look like the pig I was used to seeing. He was skinny. He was cold and just kind of disoriented.”
After wrestling with the decision to call the authorities to report the pig’s condition, Farmer relented and reported the situation to animal control.
After numerous cross-examinations and redirect of witness testimony, a superior court judge dismissed the jury for the day.
After the court room was clear, Reeves made a motion to dismiss the charges against his client due to lack of undeniable evidence that proved the cause of the pig’s death. He said the state had not sufficiently pinpointed that simple neglect had killed “Pig-Pig.”
The state countered this motion by stating that the animal’s malnourished state, coupled with witness and officer testimony, corroborated their claim that “Pig-Pig” had been neglected for some time.
The judge agreed and denied the motion.
The case is scheduled to resume at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Reach Jesse Campbell at (336) 846-7164.
An animal abuse case that is centered on a pot belly pig, similar to the one pictured above, is taking shape in court this week.