'Rabbit Lady'

A Franklin County woman accused of hoarding a large number of animals in alleged filthy conditions is facing multiple misdemeanor charges in the case.

Velma Muessemeyer, 75, Parkway Village, was charged Friday with 21 separate misdemeanor counts of animal abuse based on reports filed with the prosecuting attorney’s office by the Missouri Humane Society.

Prosecutor Bob Parks said he issued charges in the “worst cases” of animal abuse documented by humane society workers.

Criminal summonses were issued in the case.

The penalties for misdemeanor animal abuse range from one day to a year in the county jail, and up to a $1,000 fine on each count.

Custody Hearing

Meanwhile, Muessemeyer, known locally as the “Rabbit Lady,” is scheduled to appear at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 17, in court for a hearing to determine whether or not the animals removed from her property last month will remain in the custody of the humane society and be made available for adoption.

On Tuesday, Nov. 12, members of the society’s Animal Cruelty Task Force and Franklin County deputies removed 253 animals from Muessemeyer’s property off of Parkway Drive just east of the St. Clair city limits. An investigation led to a warrant ordering removal of the animals, including 192 domestic rabbits, 25 goats, 10 cats, 21 chickens, four dogs and a duck. Parks said the humane society reported that a number of the animals were in such poor health that they had to be euthanized.

The hearing on custody of the animals originally was set for Wednesday, Dec. 4, but Associate Circuit Judge Dave Tobben granted a motion by attorneys representing Muessemeyer for a continuance to give them time to bring in an expert witness to testify on her behalf, Parks said. The judge ordered a $4,000 bond as a condition for continuance.

The prosecutor said his office will ask the court to order restitution of $78,000 which is the amount spent by the humane society for removal, treatment and care of the animals.

Muessemeyer told The Missourian that she raises rabbits for sale and she denied that the animals were housed in unsanitary conditions.

Authorities, however, alleged that 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 had little to no shelter from the weather.

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, authorities reported.

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

If full custody of the animals is awarded to the humane society, as many of them as possible will be made available for adoption.

Second Time

This is the second time in 3 1/2 years that Muessemeyer has had animals removed from her property off of Parkway Drive just east of the St. Clair city limits.

Muessemeyer got her business up and running again last year after a two-year suspension was handed down by Judge 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.

The prosecutor’s office did not file criminal charges against Muessemeyer in that earlier case.