Sandra Werner

82 starving horses discovered

Seville, CA       Tulare County

 August 8, 2006

Tulare County Animal Control has started delivering hay to feed more than 80 horses found starting on a farm south of Seville. The horses are skinny and many of them are scarred up. Many of the horses were found in a small area fighting for food.  The area where these horses were kept had been a grape orchard where the horses apparently had eaten most of the plants and weeds that they could find.  Authorities may file an animal abuse case against the owner of the horses.

  (Photo courtesy of KFSN)  Approximately 25 other horses, including some foals 3-6 months old, were confined in a makeshift pen and survived on little food.  The owner of the horses told Animal Control Officers that she fed a ‘flake’ of hay a day – a single bale of hay has about 14 flakes – which was divided between 25 horses.  A veterinarian who inspected the animals told Animal Control Officers that a healthy diet for a horse would be two flakes a day or each horse.

On Thursday, August 10th, Animal Control Officers arranged for delivery of more than 75 bales of hay to the farm in the 36000 block of Road 156. About the same amount will have to be delivered daily to provide a healthy diet for the 82 horses, many of which were so thin that their rib and hipbones were protruding under their flesh.

That same day, the Tulare County Sheriff’s Deputies received a call from a Friant Water District employee working along an irrigation canal that runs along part of the 20-acre property, reporting that he saw two dead horses and others that appeared to be in poor health.  It is believed that one of the horses had died at least a month ago while the other died about a week ago.  He stated the woman who owns the animals had pulled them out of the pen with the other horses and they were left off the canal road after they died.

As of 8/10/06 authorities have not disclosed the name of the horses’ owner because she has not been arrested or charged.  Sheriff’s Sgt. Chris Douglass stated members of her department’s Agricultural Crimes Unit, which is investigating the case, will likely ask the County District Attorney’s Office to file animal cruelty charges.

Besides finding the horses on the farm, authorities also found a cow, 31 dogs, four goats, two sheep and a pen full of lovebirds. They also found the remains of a dead goat and dog.

A Sheriff’s report states that the cow had a growth on its side, but that except for the horses the other animals appeared to be reasonably cared for, tough the dogs were crowded in kennels.

Efforts to contact the owner of the farm were unsuccessful.  Except for the horses, Animal Control has no concerns about the care of the birds and livestock, but the woman has been given an order to get rid of most of her dogs as a county ordinance allows individuals to own just four.

The horses were not removed from the property in part because the owner has not yet been charged with a crime.  There is also adequate food for at least a few days, as long as the horses get the food that is being provided. The animals are also getting veterinary care, something that appears to have been denied for a long time.  One of the foals appeared to need extensive medical care.  There were a lot of young foals on the property – several of them very skinny and very neglected. One was so skinny it was barely able to get up and walk.

Update August 19, 2006:

Sandra Werner, age 61 of the 36000 block of Road 156 was arrested on 8/18/06 at about 2:30pm on suspicion of 17 counts of felony animal cruelty.  Werner could face up to 3 years in prison on each charge, if convicted.  The Tulare County Department of Health and Human Services will also be seeking reimbursement for the care of the animals.

Update August 25, 2006:

Werner reportedly sold 74 horses to Carl Mendes Jr. before her arrest.  Mendes has since claimed the horses and brought them to his 4-acre ranch in Riverdale and to a friend’s ranch nearby.  Mendes, age 24 who buys and sells livestock for a living, is determined to nurse the horses back to health and eventually sell them.  Mendes’ brother-in-law is Werner’s son and had not seen the horses after his May 2006 visit to Werner’s to pick up one of the horses.

Mendes has paperwork from Werner stating he purchased 82 horses but has only received 74.  He does not know where the other 8 horses are at this time.  The first 14 horses he took possession of ate almost constantly for a day and a half, estimating they ate 1,300 pounds of hay.

Werner is free on $50,000 bail after pleading not guilty to animal cruelty charges. She is scheduled to return to court on August 29thWerner has been charged with 17 counts of animal cruelty and not 82 counts of animal cruelty because only 20 horses were examined and 17 determined to be neglected by Kenneth Fiser, DVM before her arrest.  Mares with foals were in the worst condition of the horses examined.

Mendes has stated that he does not have plans to sell the horses to slaughter but rather sell them to breeders or riding schools.

Update November 23, 2006:

Werner plead no contest to 16 charges of felony animal cruelty at her court appearance on November 15thJudge Stephen Drew indicated he would sentence her to no more than 1 year in county jail and 3 years probation.  Werner must also undergo a mental health evaluation.

Update December 28, 2006:

Werner was sentenced to 300 days in jail – minus 6 days already served.  She must undergo a psychiatric exam and treatment and to serve 3 years of probation, during which time she cannot own any horses.  She was also ordered to pay $545 in fines and court fees and $1,697 to the Tulare County Health & Human Services to cover its costs for feeding and caring for the horses for a few days.  Werner will begin serving her sentence on February 26, 2007Werner can apply to serve her sentence through work-release or electronic-home-monitoring programs rather than in a jail cell.  She has until February 14, 2007 to show the court she is scheduled to begin mental-health counseling.

Werner told the judge that she has not received a penny for the horses and asked if she could attempt to have the animals returned under her son’s ownership.  Judge Drew agreed.  Mendez, who bought 82 horses from Werner, received only 72.  He said he heard the rest were sold to other people.  4 of the horses died after Mendez received them and one ill mare lost a foal.  Mendez has since sold 40 of the horses and stated the remaining horses have fattened up and are largely recovered from their ordeal, though a few still have health problems.  As for Werner’s claim of not being paid, Mendez said he paid her only about half of the $11,200 sale price they agreed on because she has not signed registration papers over to him.

Reference:

Visalia Times-Delta

Tulare Advance-Register

Fresno Bee

KFSN