According to the Marin County District Attorney’s office, two northern California horse breeders, Jill and Alex Burnell, proprietors of Gray Fox Farms LLC, were arraigned before Judge James Ritchie on Thursday, June 13, on five felony counts of animal cruelty for alleged horse abuse.
The Burnells are also charged with five misdemeanor counts of keeping an animal without proper care, three misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty, and a violation of operating a commercial animal establishment without a permit, the Marin Independent Journal reports.
The couple pleaded not guilty and the preliminary examination of the evidence is set for July 1.
The Marin Humane Society released a photo of Pookie (shown here), one of four horses it seized from Gray Fox Farms. Investigators said the horses they found there were eating bark off bushes because of insufficient pasture or feed.
"In my opinion, this has been an unjust persecution,” of this couple," their lawyer, Robert Weems, told reporters after the arraignment, "The nature of the allegations that have been made have caused these people to be damned no matter what happens."
Marin Humane Society launched an investigation at the ranch in December, saying about two dozen horses were being subjected to "serious neglect, injuries, unsafe and inhumane living conditions," Mercury News reports.
Animal welfare officers confiscated three allegedly malnourished mares and an injured stallion, and started monitoring the remaining horses. The ranch, which is near Chileno Valley, still has about 30 horses on site, they state.
The criminal complaint alleges cruelty or mistreatment against eight horses: Romantic Star, Pookie, Radieshen, Blackie, Nutsie, Aloha, Federalist and Red Wine.
The defendants theoretically could face more than five years in custody if convicted. However, the Burnells deny mistreating the animals. Meanwhile, they have litigation pending against the Marin Humane Society, demanding the return of the seized horses.
In a May 22 court filing, the Burnells claimed the Marin Humane Society, driven by its own "fanaticism," acted without legal authority, ignored due process and "promoted vicious gossip" about the Burnells in the "Internet echo chamber," the Mercury News reports.
The Marin Humane Society contends that its officers have the "discretionary authority" to seize animals under exigent circumstances--in other words, if they think prompt action is needed to protect their health and safety or to thwart animal cruelty.
The next hearing in the litigation is set for Wednesday before Judge Roy Chernus, the Marin Independent Journal reports.
Source: Mercury News