Animal neglect case inspires documentary about Chichester recovery farm

  • Sharon Morey snuggles up to Neptune at Live and Let Live Farm in Chichester. Both Morey and Neptune are featured in the documentary premiering at Red River Theatres on Wednesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Teresa Paradis is no stranger to suffering.

The executive director of Live and Let Live Farm in Chichester has cared for hundreds of abused and neglected animals in her decades-long career.

But in that time, Paradis said, one case stuck with her more than most.

It was 2003, when Paradis received a tip about a farm in Northfield where five horses were being boarded. When she got there, she saw stallions trapped indoors, tied to poles without room to move. The barn’s floor was coated in feces, beams and rafters collapsed, parts of the roof blown away.

“It was like a dungeon,” Paradis said. “You couldn’t breathe – your lungs and eyes burned.”

It took more than 10 years and multiple complaints to the town and the state before the horses were seized in 2014. A yearslong court battle ensued, as blame was passed between the owner of the farm, Bert Southwick, and the two owners of the horses. All these years later, a plea deal was finalized for one owner, Joanie Osgood, as late as October 2017. She agreed to serve a month in jail and pay $34,126 in restitution to the farm.

The story inspired local filmmaker Rebecca Howland to create a documentary based on the case and the work of Live and Let Live Farm, one of the largest farm rescues in New England.

Howland’s film, Voices in the Dark, is premiering at Red River Theatres at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Howland said she was motivated to work on the film when she began volunteering at Live and Let Farm in the spring of 2016, shortly after quitting her office job to become a documentary filmmaker.

Howland quickly developed a relationship with Neptune, a white horse with blue eyes who was seized in Northfield two years before. When Neptune came to Live and Let Live, he had never been brushed before. He startled easily – it was even difficult for Howland to get Neptune to lift his hooves to be cleaned.

However, as time went on and Neptune progressed, Howland became hopeful and inspired by the work at Live and Let Live Farm.

“As a filmmaker, sometimes you hear a story that jumps out at you that you know would really interest people,” she said. “This was one for me.”

Howland was still working on a documentary about Concord stagecoaches, which premiered at Red River Theatres in July, when she began researching the Northfield case and shooting at Live and Let Live in her spare time.

She interviewed Paradis and other volunteers about their experience at the farm, which not only takes in animals from New Hampshire, but also has rescued animals from as far away as New Mexico and Manitoba, Canada.

“We seem to be the last choice that people have,” Paradis said. “There’s nowhere else for them to go.”

The farm houses 75-80 horses, and everything from dogs and cats to mice, rabbits and parrots.

Live and Let Live Farm celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2017. Last year, the farm had 500 volunteers that logged 5,000 hours of work.

Voices in the Dark premiered for a group of Live and Let Live Farm volunteers last Saturday at Red River, for the farm’s anniversary celebration.

“I was blown away with how well she put it together,” Paradis said. “I cried throughout the whole movie.”

Paradis recommends that people who want to see the film purchase tickets in advance.

(Leah Willingham can be reached at 369-3322, lwillingham@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @LeahMWillingham.)