A North Carolina animal lover has found herself at the center of a legal firestorm.
The resident, Sheila Maphis, is an animal rescuer. It comes as no surprise, then, that she would want to help a suffering animal that she saw every day on her way to work. This is where Levi, a starving mule, comes into the picture.
Levi is owned by Marshville resident George Steele. As Maphis passed Levi every day, she couldn’t help but notice his poor condition. Levi is incredibly thin. A picture taken by Maphis shows the mule has rib and hip bones protruding from his malnourished frame. Here's a picture:
Maphis decided she needed to help the mule.
She started bringing food for Levi with her on her way to work and feeding him. A Facebook page was started called “Help Save Levi the Neglected Mule” that has over 800 followers. Sympathetic readers teamed up through the page and offered time and resources to help keep Levi fed.
On January 7, Maphis saw law enforcement officers on Steele's property as she drove by. She decided to stop and talk to the officers to see if they were responding to her complaints about Levi's condition. Levi’s owner, George Steele, was standing alongside Marshville County law enforcement officers when she arrived. Maphis was told to leave the property immediately or else she would be charged with trespassing.
“I'd be arrested for trespassing if I so much as stepped foot on the property,” Maphis recalls the officers telling her. “Horrified, I immediately left, without feeding Levi. I did not return.”
The next day, Maphis was confronted by an unexpected visitor at her place of work – a Union County Sheriff Deputy. The deputy told Maphis she was being arrested for trespassing on George Steele’s property. Maphis, who has no prior criminal records, was taken to jail.
“Mr. Steele has caused me to be arrested, photographed, fingerprinted and put through the beginning of a criminal process for feeding his animal which he appears to have abandoned,” she said on her Go Fund Me page. “I have never been in trouble my whole life and now I have a criminal record.”
But Maphis isn’t accepting her charges without a fight. She has rallied together a legal team and is now seeking to have the trespassing charge against her cleared. She also is fighting to see Levi turned over to a new owner.
But, as with most things in life, there are two sides to this story.
Steele and his family maintain that they do, in fact, take proper care of Levi. Despite a number of photographs suggesting that the mule is malnourished, North Carolina Animal Control authorities look to be taking Steele’s side on the issue. Union County Sheriff Captain Macky Goodman issued a firm warning last week telling residents to stop feeding the mule. The warning was issued after a veterinarian inspected Levi and said that, although he needed a change in diet, the mule was generally in good health.
The first hearing between Maphis and Steele will take place this Friday. Given how different the narratives coming from each respective side of this story are right now, I doubt this is the last we’ll hear of the case.