Restitution Ordered in West Virginia Neglect Case

On March 24, a Magistrate Court Judge in West Virginia ordered a horse rescue operator in that state to pay more than $11,000 in restitution to cover the cost of care for animals removed from her property last year.

In September 2010, Berkeley County, West Virginia law enforcement authorities removed 53 allegedly malnourished horses and two cows from the Hidden Meadows Equine Rescue, Inc. operated by Mary O'Brien. A dead horse was also found at the property. Following the removal, some of the horses were placed under rehabilitative care within the county. Eight deemed in the most critical condition were placed at the Day's End Farm Horse Rescue in Lisbon, Md., where one horse later died. The surviving horses received rehabilitative care and most have moved on to new adoptive homes.

O'Brien was later charged with 56 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty. On Oct. 21, O'Brien pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor animal cruelty under a plea agreement, and was ordered pay a $1,000 fine and is prohibited from owning animals for five years Under terms of the deal, 55 of the charges were dropped in exchange for the guilty plea.

A Berkeley Magistrate Court spokesperson said that on Thursday, Berkeley County Magistrate Joan Bragg ordered O'Brien to repay the Berkeley County Council $11,071 for the care of the removed animals.

O'Brien was unavailable for comment.

In response to the Hidden Meadows Equine Rescue case West Virginia State Sen. John Unger introduced a bill that would establish licensing and inspection regulations for equine rescues operating in that state. SB 540 would require rescue operators in that state to obtain a license from the state Department of Agriculture. Licensure would be contingent on inspection of both the facility and the horses located at the rescue. Licensed rescue operators would then be subject to subsequent inspections that would take place at least twice a year. County animal welfare or law enforcement personnel would carry out inspections according to guidelines developed by the West Virginia Livestock Care and Standards Board.

If the bill is passed, rescue operators who fail to meet operations and care standards could face misdemeanor criminal charges. The charges carry penalties of not less than $100 and not more than $500 for the first offense, and for a second or subsequent offense shall be fined not less than $500 and not more than $2,500.

Licensed rescues would pay an annual licensing fee of $100. Revenue from generated from the fee would be forwarded to local county animal control or Sheriffs' departments.

The West Virginia Senate passed the bill on March 1. It is now under review by the state House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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