by Beth Clifton
POLK CITY, Florida––Reportedly jailed since August 9, 2016, charged with 138 counts of neglect of animals and three counts of felony cruelty, Darlynn’s Darlins Rescue Ranch cofounders Darlynn Czerner, 65, and Clinton “Butch” Martin, 61, on September 7 lost custody of 122 swine, 43 chickens, seven cats, three dogs, two ducks, a rabbit and a horse.
Sheriff “running a pig pen”
Observed Stephanie Allen of the Orlando Sentinel, “Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd is now running a pig pen.”
Polk County Animal Services, where at one time I served under Judd as an animal control officer, has facilities for hooved animals and chickens, but will be stretched to look after that many.
So were Czerner and Martin, and that was where their troubles began, apparently about eight years after starting Darlynn’s Darlins near Lake Rosalie in rural Polk County, circa 16 years ago.
Because Czerner and Martin for whatever reason were unable to keep up with the workload at their sanctuary, alleged neglect was evident to a visitor in spring 2016, who called People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Needing help, Czerner and Martin accepted as volunteers two undercover PETA investigators. The PETA video put them in jail.
The video, summarized Tori Walker of the Lakeland Ledger, “shows hogs suffering from tumors, hair loss, overgrown hooves, open sores and ambulatory issues. One clip shows a 2-year-old hog named Spunky being operated on by Czerner, who cut into an orange-sized abscess on Spunky’s lower back with a scalpel without any kind of anesthetic,” ugly but probably the beginning of the same procedure a veterinarian may have used, in my assessment as also a former vet tech.
Pigs allegedly went unfed
“Some of the hogs had overgrown hooves, causing them to have issues walking,” Walker continued, “while others’ tusks were growing into the sides of their faces, causing them to have trouble eating. One hog had a broken leg that had healed in an unnatural position. Four dogs were found inside kennels without access to food and water. Two animals had to be euthanized,” according to a Polk County Sheriff’s Office statement.
PETA associate director of evidence analysis Dan Paden alleged that although six barrels of vegetable waste and twenty unopened bags of pig feed were found on the premises, several pigs went unfed for five days in a row before Darlynn’s Darlins was raided.
Would need 300 hours a week
“Paden said Czerner and Martin had no help at the facility other than from the two PETA volunteers,” Walker wrote. “The operation by professional standards would require 300-plus hours [of work] a week, at least,” Paden estimated. “Even if they lacked certain resources, they were knowingly depriving these animals of food, of water, and of veterinary care,” Paden charged.
What resources Czerner and Martin had is unclear. Darlynn’s Darlins had filed IRS Form 990 just once, according to Guidestar.org, the nonprofit service provider that makes Form 990 filings accessible to the public. That filing, for 2009, showed income of $41,855, expenses of $49,976, and a cumulative deficit of $85,930, with $96,076 owing on a loan.
“Through further investigation,” Walker wrote, “detectives found that a large pig named Buddy had died at the facility in June 2016 after lying in the front yard for 14 days in respiratory distress. Buddy did not eat or drink for the 14 days, and the PCSO said he suffered a cruel death that could have been avoided.”
I met the “Pig Lady”
I met Darlynn Czerner, the “Pig Lady of Polk County,” and Butch Martin in 2008, soon after they suffered the catastrophic fire that may have begun the sanctuary’s long slide into chaos.
Czerner, a bus driver for Disney World in Orlando, about an hour away, and Martin, a construction worker for Everett Whitehead & Sons, supported Darlynn’s Darlins chiefly out of their own pockets. At that time they had about 110 pigs distributed among 16 outdoor pens, plus 17 dogs, some of them quite dangerous in my assessment, along with four cats, two goats, two rabbits, a cockatiel and a flock of chickens.
According to media accounts, Martin came home one Sunday morning to find the roof of their house ablaze from an electrical fire.
Martin and neighbor Jerry Briggs evacuated three blind pigs from inside the home, and four dogs and six pigs from the back porch.
Polk County Fire Rescue spent five hours on the scene, putting out the blaze and ensuring it did not restart. But about two hours after the firefighters left, the fire re-erupted. Returning, Polk County Fire Rescue spent another hour at Darlynn’s Darlins––but despite their efforts, the fire burst out again circa 3:00 a.m. the next morning.
Temporarily penned near the house after having been taken outside, the three blind pigs, two cats, a rabbit and a cockatiel were killed. Five other pigs were injured.
Answered the call
Czerner and Martin appealed for volunteers to help them. I answered the call for help. They asked me to search through the burned rubble for personal items, jewelry, etc., and to help feed and water the pigs.
My first impression of Darlynn’s Darlins was that it was too much for two people to maintain and care for as many pigs, including piglets, as they had acquired. Feral pigs, hybrids of feral and domestic pigs, and Vietnamese pot bellied pigs had been dumped at Darlynn’s Darlins by various people for Czerner and Martin to assume responsibility for.
Czerner, a headstrong woman, was committed to carrying on the rescue. Butch, more mild in personality, was a hard worker. He too was totally committed to caring for the animals.
Underwear & pig poop
I gave Czerner some new undergarments, socks and clothing because there was virtually nothing left to salvage. She was very appreciative. I returned to the sanctuary for several days to help with the animals, until I felt that my help was no longer wanted.
One day someone arrived at the sanctuary in a car, I presumed to either help or donate money to help. An older man exited the car and asked if he could help himself to pig poop for his garden, to which Czerner said yes. This man appeared to be completely oblivious to the burned down home right in front of him. After collecting the pig poop he got back in his car and off he went, having made no offer of help of any kind. I found this man’s apathy appalling.
No others came
Surely I thought that others would heed the call to help. Not many did. I was not very surprised. The work that needed doing was dirty and unpleasant.
At that time, all of the animals were well cared for, although I was concerned the sanctuary was more than the two of them could handle. I can’t recall that there were paid employees. When Czerner and Martin were away at their jobs, Darlynn’s Darlins was either unattended or left in the hands of whatever transient volunteers they could recruit.
Seven years later, I am sad to say, my gut feelings appear to have been correct. Darlynn’s Darlins had become a dumping ground for unwanted pigs. And perhaps anyone else who heeded their call for help seven years ago was discouraged by Czerner herself or the unpleasant, dirty nature of caring for swine.
Who is at fault?
Who is truly at fault in this sad situation? It is logical and easy to place the entire blame on Czerner and Martin, much as people tend to put the entire blame for dog, cat, and horse hoarding situations on the would-be rescuers and sanctuarians, often if not always mentally ill, who take in vastly more animals than they can look after.
But I contend that much and perhaps most of the fault lies with the people who dump the animals into such situations in the first place, clinging to the old and pernicious myth that somewhere on a distant farm, out of sight and mind of the people ridding themselves of responsibility for the animals, is a place they can all live happily ever after, with no need for hard decisions and euthanasia.
As a former cop, among my many other previous careers, I can personally attest that pigs are highly intelligent, sentient beings. The years of suffering they experienced must have been unbearable for them.
But they were scarcely the only pigs in Florida experiencing a similar plight. Arguing that pigs on factory farms suffer worse, which may be true for many, begs the point that pigs in failing sanctuaries can scarcely be said to have been “rescued” when they experience comparable conditions for much, much longer.
The fire at Darlynn’s Darlins came the same year that Lory Yazurlo, of the former Pig Tales sanctuary in Bunnell, Florida, lost custody of 800 pigs.
Yazurlo, then age 45 and wheelchair-bound, had persevered for 13 years “despite many obstacles: her meager income, ongoing battles to get help with her disability, and those who thought a paraplegic wasn’t capable of caring for more than 800 swine,” recounted Orlando Sentinel staff writer Ludmilla Lelis in November 2008.
“Yazurlo lost control of the pigs,” Lelis explained, “having to sign over custody to the Flagler County Humane Society, because of the evidence of animal neglect found at her 20-acre sanctuary. One witness called it a ‘horrific’ scene, with pig corpses, walking skeletons and thirsty, starving animals roaming wildly in debris-strewn fields. Tests confirmed that five pigs have pseudorabies,” a disease that eventually necessitated euthanizing nine pigs by gunshot to keep it from spreading.
Pigs were founder’s life
“The pigs have been Yazurlo’s life,” Lelis wrote, “since she got her first pot-bellied pet a couple of years after a crash while driving a tractor-trailer for CSX railroad left her a paraplegic. She began collecting the unwanted pigs from breeders––twice rescuing them from behind shopping centers and even taking in pigs from the local humane society. A pig rescuer from South Florida brought an additional 100 pigs to her.
“She spent all she had on feed, took in donations, and accepted help from volunteers.”
But eventually Yazurlo suffered more severe disability, Lelis explained, while “Her main volunteer was diagnosed with cancer. The well pump broke, eliminating the pigs’ source of clean water,” a problem also afflicting Darlynn’s Darlins at one point. “Yazurlo was hospitalized with pneumonia. And all the while, the price of feed skyrocketed.”
389 pigs euthanized
Yazurlo eventually regained custody of about 450 of the pigs, but in November 2010 was obliged by Flagler County Judge Sharon Atack to surrender for euthanasia the 389 pigs still alive then, who had been diagnosed as carrying a variety of potentially contagious illnesses.
Within the next few months Flagler County adopted new ordinances meant to keep would-be sanctuarians out.
The Barberville escape
Probably suffering somewhat less, about 70 pot-bellied pigs were in 2006 either released or escaped from the Barberville, Florida property of David Mowerly, whose wife bred pot-bellied pigs. Mowerly and his wife were in the process of divorce.
The Mowerly pigs roamed free for months, reported Channel 9 Eye-witness News, until four pigs were found dead with their throats cut alongside a road.
Members of the Fort Myers-based Pigs as Pets Association, led by founder Lana Hollenbeck, captured 39 pigs and piglets. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission in October 2006 authorized hunters to kill the remainder.
Baited into shooting range with corn, the rest of the pigs were supposedly killed by archery and gunfire, but some might have escaped to hybridize with feral pigs, believed to have inhabited Florida since looking after 200 pigs proved to be too much for Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto and his army of 620 men in 1539.