A sign posted in front of Velma Muessemeyer’s home in Parkway Village advertises rabbits for sale.

The rows of cages stacked high on top of each other now sit empty on the side of Velma Muessemeyer’s house in Parkway Village.

And, she said she does not understand why.

For the second time in about 3 1/2 years, Muessemeyer, known to many as the “Rabbit Lady,” had all of her animals removed from her property on Tuesday morning. The Missouri Humane Society spearheaded the “rescue” after a concerned citizen alerted the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office about the situation.

Members of the society’s Animal Cruelty Task Force and local deputies removed 253 animals from the property off of Parkway Drive just east of the St. Clair city limits. An investigation led to a warrant ordering removal of the animals.

Prosecuting Attorney Bob Parks said he will consider filing criminal charges in the case after he receives reports from the humane society and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office which helped investigate the allegations.

“I expect that the humane society will present six or seven or up to a dozen of the worst cases (of animal neglect) that they found and then we’ll decide whether or not to issue on those charges,” Parks told The Missourian.

He said he expects reports to be submitted to his office by early next week.

Muessemeyer told The Missourian that she was surprised when authorities knocked on her door Tuesday morning.

“They just showed up,” she said. “They showed up and started taking my animals. They had a warrant and just took all of them away.”

Muessemeyer said she was still sleeping when authorities pounded on her door at about 8 a.m.

“I had no warning,” she said. “I had no idea they were coming again.”

The rescued animals included more than 192 domestic rabbits, 25 goats, 10 cats, 21 chickens, four dogs and a duck. All of the animals were living in filthy conditions, according to a humane society press release.

The rabbits were housed in raised wire-bottom cages with feces piled in the cages as well as underneath them. Many of the cages were encrusted with dirt and hair and have little to no shelter from the weather, the humane society stated in its release.

Most of the cages held multiple rabbits with some housing as many as 10. Water for many of the animals was frozen, dirty and contaminated with feces.

It’s a Business

“This is a business for me,” the 74-year-old Muessemeyer said. “I buy the animals, raise them and then sell them. It’s how I make my living.”

She also said that in her opinion, she takes good care of her animals.

“I feed and water them every day,” she said. “I check on them. I make sure they’re OK.”

According to the information from the humane society, the goats appeared to be suffering from an upper respiratory illness. The cats and other animals which were inside the home on the property also were living in extremely filthy conditions. The animals have received little to no veterinary care.

“If one gets sick, I put it down,” Muessemeyer said. “I don’t house sick animals. I don’t sell sick animals.”

According to the humane society, the complaint came from an individual who had purchased a sick goat from Muessemeyer.

“If it was sick, they should have brought it back right away,” she said. “I would have taken care of it.”

Muessemeyer said she has sold animals to countless individuals for decades with no complaints. So, she said she doesn’t understand when there is one complaint that it leads to what happened on Tuesday.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “I run a good business.”

Muessemeyer got her business up and running again last year after a two-year suspension was handed down by Franklin County Associate Circuit Judge David Tobben. That ruling came in 2010 after 158 rabbits, dogs, cats, goats, and fowl were rescued from Muessemeyer’s property. 

A court agreement stipulated that Muessemeyer, for a period of two years, would be allowed to raise no more than 40 rabbits, two dogs, four chickens, four roosters one duck and one guinea pig. That period ended in February 2012.

“I had to get the business going again because it’s how I make my living,” Muessemeyer said. “I’ve been selling rabbits since I was 13 years old. This is my livelihood. This is my business.”

Muessemeyer said she is waiting to see what, if any, charges are filed against her.

“What they did was wrong and unfair,” Muessemeyer said. “I’m not doing anything wrong. I’ve taken care of a lot of animals for all of my life. I do it all myself. I know what I’m doing.

“I hope I get to run my business again.”

The rescued rabbits, dogs and cats were taken to the Humane Society of Missouri’s headquarters shelter in St. Louis City for triage and care. The goats, chickens and duck were taken to the Humane Society of Missouri’s Longmeadow Rescue Ranch west of Union.

A disposition hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 4, at the Franklin County Courthouse in Union. Until that hearing, the humane society will have custody of the animals. If full custody of the animals is awarded to the Humane Society of Missouri, as many of them as possible will be made available for adoption.

— Missourian Managing Editor Ed Pruneau contributed to this story.