Guilty verdicts in neglect of horses
When Angel and Reno were rescued from a South King County home late last year, the horses had been starved for so long every one of their...
Seattle Times staff reporter
When Angel and Reno were rescued from a South King County home late last year, the horses had been starved for so long every one of their ribs was showing.
One of the two horses had a festering wound the size of a grapefruit on her forehead, and both were so dispirited they hung their heads and trembled.
Now, the mares are healthy and playful, and their coats are gleaming. One has been adopted by a North Bend family and the other is at a horse sanctuary in Snohomish County.
Their former owner, Dennis Phillip Billups, 50, of Kent, on Wednesday became the first person in King County to be convicted under a new state law making animal cruelty by neglect a felony crime when jurors returned two guilty verdicts against him.
"I hope this sends the message that people are willing to speak up for animals because they can't speak for themselves," said Deputy Prosecutor Julie Kline.
Kline said Billups could face up to a year in jail, and prosecutor spokesman Dan Donohoe said his office will likely recommend that Billups be banned from ever owning another horse.
Billups, who could not be reached for comment, had told animal-control officers that he had been caring for the animals diligently.
According to court documents, Billups had been visited at his rural Covington home several times last year by King County Animal Service officers after the county received complaints about the horses' condition.
Animal-control officers, who reported that the horses appeared to be between 100 and 200 pounds underweight, initially tried to work with Billups, court documents say. Billups said he couldn't afford to hire a veterinarian, so animal control and the nonprofit animal advocacy group Pasado's Safe Haven provided one at no charge.
Equine veterinarian Dr. Dana Bridges examined the horses, and found that they were underweight and infested with worms and parasites. She prescribed a feeding and restorative-care program that Billups promised to follow, according to court documents.
Bridges said she also explained numerous times to Billups that if he could not afford to care for the animals, he could relinquish them and she would find them good homes.
Instead, court documents say, he moved his horses to another property in Kent.
By the time the horses were tracked down again in November after additional complaints about the animals were lodged, Angel had a wound on her forehead that was untreated and badly infected. At that point, the vet re-examined the horses and found them to be in worse shape than before, court documents say.
Bridges said Angel would probably die within a week if not treated.
"We had to step in then to save the lives of the animals, which is our priority," said Al Dams, acting director of King County Animal Services.
Dams said the Billups case was not considered deliberate maliciousness but neglect. Dams said he wants people to know that neglect is a form of animal cruelty and a felony.
"We want people to take care of their animals," he said, "but when they don't, there will be significant consequences."
State legislators altered the animal-cruelty law in 2005 to make severe neglect a felony instead of a misdemeanor after a case in Bellevue in which a woman was arrested for allegedly letting her eight cats and dog die in a flea-infested, trashed condominium.
Gretchen Salstrom, the founder of the sanctuary where the horses were taken, said she had never seen a more emaciated horse than Angel when she first arrived.
"It made me cry, it was so awful," she said.
But on Friday, Angel was roaming in her paddocks, eating grass and "doing great."
"She is the sweetest mare," said Salstrom. "We all just love her."
Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or email@example.com.
Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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