California Rancher Faces 70 Animal Cruelty Charges

A California rancher is facing a total of 70 animal cruelty charges in connection with the alleged maltreatment of more than 50 horses on his Lassen County ranch.

Earlier this year the equine rescue and rehabilitation facility The Grace Foundation of Northern California, along with Lassen County animal control authorities, began investigating conditions at the Whispering Pines Ranch in Susanville. The probe revealed a herd of horses living on the property without food and the carcasses of 25 horses.

Grace Foundation Founder Beth DeCaprio said that in April the Foundation removed 20 horses from the property after owner Dwight Bennett relinquished them voluntarily. The Foundation removed another 36 horses from the ranch in August. Bennett retained ownership of those animals; however, they remain in protective custody at the Grace Foundation, DeCaprio said.

"According to our veterinarian, the average body condition of the herd is between 2 and 3 (out of 9) on the Henneke Body Condition scale," DeCaprio said. "Also, 18 of the removed mares are confirmed pregnant. Another 11 mares may also be in foal."

On Oct. 24 ranch owner Dwight Bennett was arrested for allegedly maltreating the herd.

Brandon Gutierez, legal assistant to Lassen County District Attorney Bob Burns, said Bennett was charged with 70 counts of animal cruelty. He is also facing drug-related charges including possession of a controlled substance.

Bennett remains incarcerated at the Lassen County Adult Detention Facility in lieu of $252,000 bond, Guitierez said. Bennett was unavailable for comment.

Since their removal all 56 animals are responding well to rehabilitative care, DeCaprio said.

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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