WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- South and east in the Southern Tier, a peaceful place called the Farm Sanctuary is home to rescued farm animals from all over the country.
The animals live carefree, but to have arrived there in the first place may suggests a dark past.
Such is the case with the hundreds of farm animals that used to belong to Bonnie and Donald George.
On a snowy February night, a plow driver for Cattaraugus County noticed a horse down, and knew something wasn't right.
Her phone call for help would lead to a huge investigation of 600 farm animals.
"Well I think my first thoughts were shock. To have that many animals, especially with all the ducks running loose and the different types of birds,” said Susie Coston, the national shelter director of the Watkins Glen Farm Sanctuary. “But just all the garbage and the trash and the clear lack of care for animals...was really shocking to me.”
Coston was a life saver, literally. The Farm Sanctuary is an oasis of rolling green hills that's home to more than 500 animals.
Coston agreed to help.
"When you're talking hundreds of sheep or you're talking cows, sheep, horses, all the animals that they had...the majority were large animals, so it was a big case that had to be split up,” said Coston.
Local farms or people who already owned horses helped take the larger animals from Bonnie and Donald George's former property when the Franklinville cruelty case was over.
Farm Sanctuary took in nearly 200 other animals, including chickens, ducks, sheep, and goats.
All needed veterinary care. A few needed amputations. Fewer had to be euthanized. The majority, however, are doing well.
Pictures from inside the Franklinville barns revealed little food or water, deplorable conditions with feces and mud, and there were several stallions that appeared not to have been let outside the barns in a very long time.
"That loft actually you were required to wear a respirator just to go in...because you couldn't breathe,” Coston remembers. “So it made your eyes burn, it burned your lungs.”
Four months later, the Georges pleaded guilty to animal cruelty. They cannot own animals in Cattaraugus County anymore, and they have the pay the SPCA $20,000 for all the money the small non-profit spent caring for the animals.
The Georges have since moved to Erie County where the Cattaraugus County sentencing does not carry over. They already have dozens of animals.
"It started out at about 80 when the actual case started in a separate county. Right now, they may be up to about a hundred animals. It could be more at this time,” said Gina Browning of the Erie County SPCA.
So far, so good though. The animals the Georges took with them to Erie county were all in good condition. The SPCA checks in on the animals regularly.
As for the 200 animals now living in Watkins Glen, they are acclimating to a better life.
At the Farm Sanctuary, they're treated like companion animals and will live out their days here, never to be sent to a slaughter house and never to be mistreated again.
"We didn't know we were taking in pregnant sheep, but three of the sheep were pregnant,” said Coston.
Farm Sanctuary now has several babies as a result of taking in these animals.
These new, bright eyed babes are a tangible silver lining to a story that started as a tragedy.
They are healthy and happy.
"The nice thing about it is not just that we get to see babies…it's because those mothers have never been able to keep their babies, and now they'll get to grow up with their moms,” said Coston.
The sheep, along with goats, and many types of birds, are starting to get used to being treated like companion animals.
The staff at the Farm sanctuary care for these lives the way we would a cat or dog.
"It's so sad that this case happened at all, but it's one of the most amazing things to see these animals all of a sudden become really happy and secure,” said Coston.
In addition to the information Channel 2 aired on its Tuesday night broadcast, 2 On Your Side also found that Bonnie and Donald George were convicted of animal cruelty in 2006. That case stemmed from an animal raid on December 28, 2005, and involved more than 70 dogs. The following are photos from video Channel 2 took where our cameras were there a decade ago.