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Hadley woman arraigned on 35 animal cruelty charges 

  • A Kerry cow rescued from an Amherst farm, at the MSPCA at the Nevins Farm in Methuen, prior to its adoption. MSPCA-Angell/SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Kerry cattle rescued from an Amherst farm, at the MSPCA at the Nevins Farm in Methuen, prior to their adoption. MSPCA-Angell/SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Kerry cattle rescued from an Amherst farm are shown at the MSPCA at the Nevins Farm in Methuen prior to their adoption. MSPCA-Angell

  • Shannon Rice-Nichols appears for arraignment in Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belchertown Thursday, May 12, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/SCOTT MERZBACH

  • Shannon Rice-Nichols appears for arraignment in Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belchertown Thursday, May 12, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/SCOTT MERZBACH

  • Shannon Rice-Nichols taken in 2019. Shannon Rice-Nichols talks about opening a new farm stand called Farmer and The Cheese on Rocky Hill Road in Hadley. STAFF FILE PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Shannon Rice-Nichols taken in 2019. Shannon Rice-Nichols talks about opening a new farm stand called Farmer and The Cheese on Rocky Hill Road in Hadley. STAFF FILE PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS



Staff Writer
Monday, May 23, 2022

BELCHERTOWN — A Hadley woman accused of mistreating several cows and goats she kept at an Amherst farm pleaded not guilty to 35 animal cruelty charges on May 12 in Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belchertown.

Shannon Rice-Nichols, 49, was released on personal recognizance, with no requirement to pay cash bail, and is scheduled to return to court for a pretrial conference June 15.

The 35 counts of felony animal cruelty she is facing relate to an investigation, led by the law enforcement arm of the Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which found, on March 14, that she was keeping neglected and malnourished cows and goats, including three animals that had to be euthanized.

The animals that survived, most of which were infected with parasites, were brought to the MSPCA at Nevins Farm in Methuen.

Animal cruelty is punishable by up to seven years in prison and a maximum fine of $5,000.

Marissa Elkins of Elkins, Auer, Rudof, & Schiff LLC in Northampton, the attorney representing Rice-Nichols, said after the arraignment that she would not offer a comment about the case.

Judge Bruce Melikian agreed to set a series of conditions for Rice-Nichols’ release that include orders to stay away from the Thistle Bloom Farm at 684 South East St. in Amherst, where the animals were kept, and also to stay away from Amherst residents Karl Zimmerman and Catherine Bell, who live near the farm.

Rice-Nichols also was ordered to not possess any farm animals.

The Northwestern district attorney’s office is prosecuting the case, which is being handled by Erin Aiello, assistant district attorney, and Matthew Russo, attorney-in-charge at Eastern Hampshire District Court.

“Every animal deserves to live in an environment free from cruelty and neglect,” Aiello said in a statement.

MSPCA investigators initially began looking into the matter when they were called to Thistle Bloom Farm by Carol Hepburn, Amherst’s animal welfare officer, finding eight head of very rare Kerry cattle, one Holstein cow and 22 Saanen, Lamancha and Alpine-mix goats. The animals were malnourished, neglected and infected with parasites.

The agency was assisted by Amherst police and the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture Resources’ Division of Animal Health.

Since the surviving animals got to Nevins Farm, though, several more of the goats had to be put to death.

“Unfortunately half of the goat herd tested positive for an infectious disease called Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis (CAE) and had to be humanely euthanized,” Mike Keiley, director of adoption centers and programs at the MSPCA, said in a statement.

Sara-Rose Brenner, spokeswoman for the MSPCA, said all of the Kerry cattle and the Holstein that were rescued have since been adopted. In addition, three goats have also found new homes, and those that remain can also be adopted.

People interested in adopting the other goats or other animals are encouraged to go to mspca.org/adoption-centers/nevins-farm-adoption-center/adoption-inquiry.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.