Pocomoke City man convicted on animal cruelty charges, County calling it a win
POCOMOKE CITY, Md. – Worcester County Commissioners are calling the conviction of a man who they say put animals in harm’s way a big win.
Breeding Bad Behavior
Worcester County Commissioner Joshua Nordstrom says the court decision marks the end of a problem that has been plaguing Pocomoke City for years. Nordstrom says that problem was found in Michael Parrett’s Australian Shepherd breeding operation.
“He was breeding Australian Shepherds on his property. He would have anywhere between 25 and 35 dogs at any given time. They weren’t taken care of any greater than the bare minimum,” said Nordstrom. They were living in dirt and they were outside all the time – winter, summer – in tough conditions.”
It was an environment that Nordstrom says was unclean, unsafe, and unfit for animals or people. Nordstrom says the dogs would bark at all hours, and escape the property, causing sleepless nights for neighbors.
“When they would get out, sometimes they would cause harm to others. Sometimes they would get hit on the road. They would bark all night, and when one of them would bark, 30 of them started barking,” said Nordstrom. “It created quite a bit of havoc for the neighbors, and I started getting a lot of calls.”
When the dogs passed away from multiple fires and incidents of disease, Parrett would bury them near a water source that fed into well sources, and sometimes even keep the carcasses in a freezer, according to Nordstrom. “When everyone in your area is on well water, that’s a concern. When [you have] burning feces that leeches into the ground, that’s a concern. It’s a health concern,” he said.
“Protecting the animals that can’t speak for themselves”
Nordstrom says the county tried everything to help Parrett. From multiple visits from law enforcement and animal control, to offering resources through the health department and social services, Nordstrom says nothing seemed to help. “This gentleman was at the top of their list as residents or places that they responded to,” he said.
The problem was that existing county and state laws were too vague to punish Parrett with any real effect. “There was no real enforcement, or any offenses that were deemed to be punishable by anything other than a civil citation,” said Nordstrom.
That’s when Nordstrom and other county leaders got to work, drafting county legislation that would tighten up animal cruelty laws. The legislation also placed stricter requirements on those who wish to breed or board animals, including the option for the county to run inspections on those granted the proper permits.
“You’re basically starting from zero, from scratch there. The talented people in our different departments worked together,” said Nordstrom. “We’re not only protecting the citizens who live here, we’re not only supporting animals lovers, we are protecting the animals that can’t speak for themselves.”
The legislation passed in 2021, and Parrett was eventually charged. Friday, he got his day in court. Parrett was found guilty of three counts of animal cruelty, and six other ancillary counts. He will now serve 90 days per count, and has the option to appeal the ruling.
“His case is sad. It’s unfortunate. It’s an example of someone who just didn’t get it from the start; didn’t understand what he was doing and didn’t know what steps to take, or refused to take the steps to fix the problem,” said Nordstrom.
Now, Nordstrom says Parrett’s case will serve as a benchmark for future animal cruelty cases in Worcester County. “I think our outcome here is great, and will last into the future, and people will have to follow these new laws and standards if they choose to breed or board animals,” he said. “When you put other people at risk, that is on the owner. So, these are steps we took to take care of that.”
Looking ahead, Nordstrom says he’s hoping to see other counties on the Eastern Shore follow in Worcester County’s footsteps. The commissioner also says some other counties have already expressed interest in passing similar legislation. Nordstrom says until then, he has one piece of advice for those looking to avoid Worcester County’s stricter animal regulations:
“You may move across county lines, but you’re just going to have a new set of animal control people, a new set of commissioners, a new set of neighbors. That doesn’t solve the problem,” said Nordstrom.