California Owner Charged with Cruelty

On Jan. 13, prosecutors filed criminal charges against a northwestern California owner of 35 horses seized by animal control officials in December 2005. The bony, malnourished horses ranged from weanlings to geriatrics.

Mendocino County Animal Care and Control officers raided James DeNoyer's ranch in Westport on Dec. 27 and seized 22 horses. Thirteen more were removed from an adjacent Laytonville, Calif., pasture two days later. One additional mare was found dead; apparently she had tried to fight through deep mud to get to a small creek--the pasture's only water source--and was too weak to extract herself from the muck.

The seizure followed a six-month welfare investigation and efforts to get DeNoyer to improve the animals' living conditions, according to animal control officials. They said seizures are usually much smaller, involving only one or two animals. Most of DeNoyer's horses were transported to a ranch near Willits, Calif., and officials contacted Roni McFadden, office manager for Michelsen and Witt Large Animal Practice in Redwood Valley, to request veterinary consultation. McFadden arranged for veterinary care and help from volunteers (Rescued Horses Volunteer Network), which has continued since the seizures.

Paul Michelsen, DVM, checked the horses, whose body condition scores he described as "appalling." One mare had a score of 0.5, while most of the other horses had scores around 1.0.

Mike Witt, DVM, who also helped on the case, said this was probably the most dramatic example of equine abuse he has ever seen. "These horses were in bad shape," he said. "They were suffering from a variety of problems: Rain rot, overgrown feet, abscesses and open draining sores, for example. Some even were suffering from vulvar and rectal wounds," presumably from foaling accidents.

Since protective care commenced, all of the horses have started gaining weight. Witt said, "Thanks to donations of food and medicine, all horses appear to be recovering. All of their wounds are healing quite nicely."

McFadden said Intervet, Merial, and Fort Dodge Animal Health donated enough vaccines and dewormers-valued at about $2,000--to treat all of the horses.

The case has caught the attention of the Willits horse community. McFadden said, "We're angry someone would get away with something like this for so long."

If convicted of all 36 counts of animal cruelty, DeNoyer faces up to three years in state prison and a fine of $20,000 for each count, according to county prosecutors. DeNoyer could not be reached for comment.

About the Author

John V. Wood

John V. Wood is an Emmy Award-winning journalist, and now teaches his craft to high school students in North Carolina. Wood has been published in numerous national magazines/newspapersover his career, and published his first book in June 2010. Wood currently lives in Willow Spring, NC.

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