North Stonington - The state's Animal Control Division is investigating an incident involving the deaths of two mulefoot hogs at Firefly Farms, which has been part of an ongoing land claim dispute with the town.
Dugan Tillman-Brown, who manages the farm, said that shortly after 11 a.m. Saturday, June 29, he found the dead bodies of two of the animals, each four and a half months old, spaced about 10 feet apart, wrapped in electric fencing.
One was a barrow, or a castrated male, about 120 pounds; the other was a 150-pound boar. Tillman-Brown said each could have been worth about $3,000 or more. He added that one of them was the last of his kind and represents the end of a bloodline.
Tillman-Brown said the hogs' front legs were "completely immobilized," strung up tightly in the electric fencing. He said he found their bodies about 60 feet away from where a section of the fence had been stripped from some poles - "to make enough room to wrap up the hogs," he said. Blood was visible where it had come out of the animals' noses and mouths, he said, but there were no burns - the fence's light static shock would not have caused this kind of injury. But he said there were deep creases in the animals' ankles and around their throats from where the wires had dug into their skin.
He said the animals had likely died from the stress of being shocked and immobilized, bound against any movement except for kicking of their hind legs. The bleeding from their noses and mouth were a result of the animals' screaming, he said, after reaching a state of "extreme exhaustion." It was also a very hot and humid day, Tillman-Brown said, and the animals had likely suffered "heat stress" and had been hyperventilating.
"It's just a sign of some of the most incredible stress you can imagine," he said of the bleeding.
First Selectman Nick Mullane said Resident State Trooper Tom Fabian responded later that evening, around 7 p.m.; police were busy earlier in the day responding to a boating accident on Wyassup Lake.
Tillman-Brown said Fabian had to deem the incident an "accident" because there wasn't much evidence to go on. Tillman-Brown had removed the carcasses by the time state police could respond to keep them away from the other hogs, and he did not take any photos before doing so.
Fabian could not be reached to comment, and Mullane said Fabian is still working on his report of the incident.
Tillman-Brown said animal control officer Todd Curry of the state Department of Agriculture came out to the farm last Friday morning. Curry wrote in an e-mail that he has yet to determine whether the deaths were the result of a crime or "an unfortunate accident."
Rep. Diana Urban (D-North Stonington) said Beth Tillman, Tillman-Brown's mother, got in touch with her through Facebook the Monday following the incident. She suggested the family contact the Department of Agriculture.
Urban said she is "suspicious" that human interference is to blame for the animals' deaths.
"Animals get it," she said. "If they have been exposed to an electric fence, they get it. They don't want to get close to an electric fence."
The Tillman-Brown family says this is the latest in a series of incidents around the farm that they are calling harassment. Tillman-Brown said fences have been ripped out, herds of pigs have been let out of their pens, power cords have been broken, and tractors have "disappeared."
Mullane said police have responded to a couple of these incidents, but none has been resolved.
According to the family, the harassment began around the time that the town held a referendum regarding the Firefly Farms land located at 96 and 96A Button Road in late May. By a narrow margin, residents voted to accept the family's $100,000 offer in exchange for the town's giving up its claim on the land. The controversy dates back to a deed on the former Norwich YMCA property that said it would revert back to the town should the Y cease to use it, which it did after going bankrupt in 2009. An error in the town's land records apparently cleared the title of the land, and it was sold to Van Brown, Tillman-Brown's father, in 2011.
The vote was not binding for the Board of Selectmen, however, and the town has since brought the dispute to court. Mullane said he has filed a request for a stipulated judgment and is waiting on the family's response.
Since the incident, Brown said his family's initial offer of $500 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator has increased to nearly $3,000 thanks to pledges from neighbors and fellow farmers from as far away as Montana. Updates on the incident have been on Firefly Farms' Facebook page.
This is the second publicized instance of animal violence in town this year: in January, two cows at the Palmer dairy farm were shot, and one had to be euthanized. Two young men were charged in connection with the shooting.