TS - No jail for horse-hoarder

Felony charges pled out to one misdemeanor

No jail for horse-hoarder
Sean Garmire/The Times-Standard
Posted: 05/30/2008 01:15:13 AM PDT

Former horse owner Elsie Smith, whose 40 malnourished horses were seized by law enforcement from her Myers Flat property in April, offered a new plea of “no contest” to the charge of animal cruelty Wednesday.

Facing a maximum two-year prison sentence, the 69-year-old Smith accepted a plea deal.

According to court documents, she will now be required to compensate the city for costs of stabling the animals, relinquish all the seized animals and forfeit her rights to care for horses or other equines over the next three years.

The sentence requires Smith to attend counseling classes and perform community service.

After initially signing 30 of her horses over to the county, Smith refused to give up the remaining 10, opting to have them stay with friends and relatives. Smith lost the right to have input on those horses when she signed the agreement, and the horses have since been transferred to the county's care.

According to court documents, the Humboldt County district attorney estimated that the cost incurred for upkeep of the horses was $11,675 as of May 9.

Animal Control Division Lt. Steve Knight said his department is still calculating the costs of keeping the horses.

”We're still putting together those fees and submitting the total package to Elsie and the courts,” Knight said. “It'll be done, hopefully, in a week.”

The total updated estimate will be given to Smith in court during her June 23 supplemental report.

Smith's attorney, Neal Sanders, could not be reached for comment.

A second misdemeanor charge of obstructing a public officer was dropped in the agreement. The charge stemmed from early in the investigation, when the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office first seized 39 horses on her 25-acre property. Officials said Smith hid a horse in a wooded area on her property during the raid. It was found and seized three days later.

The county's Animal Control Division reported Smith was keeping the horses -- studs, mares and colts -- standing knee-deep in manure on deformed and infected hooves. Their coats were matted with mud and lice, and they were said to be malnourished.

Since then, Knight said the animals' coats have been treated for lice and their hooves trimmed. They are even gaining weight, he said.

”Their overall health has improved dramatically,” he said. “It's obvious; you can see it.”

The animals were relocated to the Humboldt County Fairgrounds, the Sheriff's Office farm in Rohnerville and the Fortuna Rodeo Grounds, and many were offered at auction.

Veterinarians had to euthanize two of the horses that would not have recovered, Knight said.

Of the total 24 horses that went up for auction, 20 were purchased. The auction ended with no bids placed on four horses, at least one of which will be given to Heart of the Redwoods Horse Rescue for rehabilitation.

Officials still don't know what to do with the 10 additional horses turned over Wednesday to the county. Knight said they may go up for auction in June, but that is not certain.

”We're getting the 24 horses dealt with now,” Knight said. “We will be looking at placement of the other 10 within the next week or two.”

Sean Garmire can be reached at 441-0514 or sgarmire@times-standard.com.