DINWIDDIE – Sara Johnson forfeited ownership of numerous animals, including more than 40 horses, 19 dogs, six goats and two sheep, in General District Court on Monday.
Johnson, through her attorney Sue Kessler, agreed to surrender ownership of the animals, which have been seized in place, on her White Oak Road property in DeWitt until suitable locations for them to be placed are found.
Kessler told Judge John Dodson that her client didn’t “feel comfortable” with the one part of the agreement dictating that she must repay the county for the cost of caring for the animals until they are moved, specifically that an exact dollar figure was not listed in the agreement. However, Kessler and her client agreed to the drafted agreement.
Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney Lisa Caruso said that as part of the agreement, Johnson acknowledges that the animals – 31 mare horses, 13 gelding horses, three stallion horses, seven male horses, two mare mini horses, two mare donkeys, one stallion donkey, one male mule, seven male dogs, five female dogs, 14 dogs of undetermined gender, six goats and two sheep – were not receiving adequate care.
As part of the agreement, Johnson will be allowed to care for the remaining animals on her property, but she waives her Fourth Amendment rights against search and seizure and will allow Dinwiddie County Animal Control officers, veterinarians and Dinwiddie County Sheriff’s deputies onto her property at any time to inspect the condition of the animals until they are moved.
Dinwiddie County Animal Control Chief Warden Deborah Broughton said that she’s pleased with the agreement. She added that the terms of the agreement necessitate Johnson’s assistance in caring for the animals due to the large number on the property.
“It’s very hard to control when you have to seize the animals in place,” Broughton said.
Caruso said she could not speculate on why Johnson was not caring for the animals, but said that it is clear that she wasn’t.
“That’s why we have this agreement,” Caruso said.
Cindy Smith, a founding member of the horse rescue group that Sara Johnson belonged to in 2010, Central Virginia Horse Rescue, said that she was shocked to learn of her friend’s situation. She said that she felt partly responsible for failing to intervene after Johnson sent her an email in January seeking support.
“She said she had too many horses and needed some help,” Smith said.
Smith receives three to five similar emails daily from around the region and across the state. Her return message asking for more information went unanswered.
“Sarah is a wonderful person, and I would have thought that she would have provided a better home for those horses,” she said. “She was one of the most well-meaning people I’ve ever met.”
Broughton said that the animals have been improving with the care they’ve been receiving since last Wednesday. Last week, Broughton said that some of the animals were extremely emaciated and scored the worst possible mark on a nine-point scale to gauge horse body condition and well being. The animals are being assessed daily and are being fed two to three times daily.
Johnson left court Monday afternoon in a white SUV with Virginia horse enthusiast license plates.
Caruso said that criminal charges haven’t been filed yet in the case, but didn’t rule out the possibility that they would be.
The case will return to General District Court for review on May 31.
– F.M. Wiggins may be reached at 732-3456, ext. 3254 or firstname.lastname@example.org. From http://www.progress-index.com