SPCA official: 123 alpacas died while under caretaker's supervision

MARATHON, N.Y. — A Cortland County farm that was once home to 200 alpacas has had its animal population decimated in a matter of months.

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Dayton L. Wood, the man who had been hired by the owner of Sam Groome Alpaca Farm in the town of Marathon to look after the animals, has been charged with 143 counts of animal cruelty—1 count for each alpaca that was found deceased while under his care. Each count carries a maximum sentence of up to 1 year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Wood had been living in a house on the property after being hired by the farm's owner, Samuel Groome, to take care of the animals, according to Bill Carr, Chief Law Enforcement officer for the Cortland County SPCA. The alpacas remained under Wood's care for about a year.

The farm came under Carr's attention after a caller anonymously told police that there were several dead alpacas at the property on McMahon Road.

Soon after the tip was reported, Groome, who had been living in Florida, arranged to visit his farm with SPCA investigators and New York State Police.

Carr said Wood was reluctant to be cooperative at first, but after returning to the property the following day, he agreed to work with investigators. A subsequent month-long investigation revealed that the animals likely died due to malnutrition and lack of veterinary care while under Wood's supervision, Carr said.

Of the 143 alpacas that died, 21 survived, he said.

Wood was arraigned in Marathon Town Court on Friday and released. He is due back in court May 11.

SPCA investigators will be working with the Cortland County District Attorney's Office over the course of the investigation. The Cortland County SPCA has a contract with the county to conduct animal cruelty investigations.

Carr said this is the largest animal cruelty case he has worked on in his nearly 15 years with the CCSPCA.

Prior to the March visit, Carr said he came to the farm in 2015 after a reported Meningeal worm outbreak. Also known as the "deer worm," it is known for infecting llamas and alpacas.

"The deer were starving that winter, so as soon as they saw grass, they went right into the field," Carr said. "The deer carry the worm, which can be fatal for alpacas."

A veterinarian was called in to help stop the outbreak, but about a dozen alpacas died, according to Carr.

"There were probably 15 dead, which, even that was a big deal for me," Carr said. "But with the vet not finding neglect, there wasn't anything for us to charge [Wood] with."


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