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For Second Time, Marin Humane Society's Horse Confiscation Ruled OK

Horse breeders from West Marin Ranch believe Marin Humane Society had no right to take horses off their property.

The Marin Humane Society released the following information Thursday regarding a case of what it deems as animal neglect:

After a seven-hour hearing on Jan. 24 detailing severe animal neglect, an independent Hearing Officer today ruled that Marin Humane Society Animal Services, a division of the nonprofit Marin Humane Society, properly rescued two mares, named Blackie and Nutsie, from Gray Fox Farm on Jan. 4.

The ruling comes on the heels of a Jan. 14 decision which found that MHS was justified in the seizure of a badly wounded stallion and a malnourished mare from the same property on Dec. 27, 2012. MHS continues to monitor the remaining animals at the Chileno Valley breeding farm occupied by Jill and Alex Burnell.

MHS Animal Services Officers visited Gray Fox Farm on Dec. 27 to find severe neglect, injuries, and inhumane living conditions for horses living on the property. Two horses, known as Romantic Star and Pookie, were taken by MHS on that date. After the Burnells failed to respond to a care agreement and its deadlines for veterinary and hoof care for some of the horses, MHS returned to the property on Jan. 4 to find the problems were ongoing, and more horses were in need of prompt attention.

Animal Services Officers could see that there were still very thin horses on the property and a lack of sufficient pasture or feed. There were bushes stripped down to bark, indicating that the horses were suffering from extreme deprivation of food, forcing them to eat anything they could find.

Officers found that Nutsie and Blackie were particularly affected to the point of near starvation. Nutsie had no fat across the crest of her neck. Her shoulder blades and withers stood out prominently. Blackie’s shoulder blades, backbone and hip bones stuck out. With a thick heavy coat, officers could still see all her ribs. Officers could feel no discernible fat behind Blackie’s legs, on her chest or above her crest. Her neck was sunken in dramatically.

Humane officers have a duty and the authority to remove animals if it is deemed that prompt action is required to protect their health or safety, or if the officers believe animal cruelty is being committed and a seizure is necessary. 

“For the second time, the hearing officer, after reviewing extensive evidence, recognized the suffering of horses seized from the Burnells, and the need for the horses’ liberation from their deteriorating condition. This should be a further wake-up call regarding the expectation in Marin, and under California law, that animals be treated properly,” said Bruce Wagman of the Schiff Hardin law firm, who is representing the Marin Humane Society. “The ruling also makes very clear that the Burnells are not in a position to properly care for the horses.”

Cost for the care of the seized horses continues to increase and is expected to climb. MHS is a California registered 501(c) (3) non-profit organization. The public can assist with MHS’s animal rehabilitation and related expenses by making a donation. Anyone with information concerning this case is encouraged to contact MHS Animal Services at 415.506.6209.

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