SUSANVILLE, CA - A Lassen County man is charged with cruelty to animals after sheriff's deputies found the remains of approximately 28 horses and three dogs on the man's property at Whispering Pines Ranch on Highway 36 in Susanville.
According to a press release from the Lassen County Sheriff's Office, the animal remains were found decomposed, ranging from recent to many years old.
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Rescue workers removed 20 horses from the property in April when Dwight Benett, 57, relinquinshed his rights, according to Beth DeCaprio, founder of The Grace Foundation. The remaining horses were removed from the property in August, said DeCaprio.
"When we started in April the horses were emaciated," DeCaprio said. "We were dealing with many medical problems."
Rescue workers describe this as the worst case of animal neglect they've ever seen. In all, 56 horses were removed from the Whispering Pines Ranch and brought to the Grace Foundation in El Dorado Hills.
"There's no way to truly describe walking on a site with that many dead and decomposing animals," DeCaprio said. "The smell tells the story."
Rescue workers provide a glimpse of what they saw at the ranch in a video posted on YouTube. It showed horses that were starved, covered in feces, suffering from diseases.
"When a horse dies, it's not a quick death from starvation," DeCaprio said. "It's a long process and so you could see the hoof marks from the horses that struggled to get up. That's what drives us, but that's also what haunts us."
A dispatch supervisor for Lassen County said the investigation has been ongoing since April.
The horses are in protective custody at The Grace Foundation facilities.
Eighteen of the 56 horses brought to The Grace Foundation's property are pregnant and it's believed 11 more are also pregnant. This has now created a concern for overpopulation and a financial burden on the non-profit organization.
"Many times we can, for the welfare of the mare, abort the babies," DeCaprio said. "In these cases we were not able to because of the case being in protective custody. We will have to foal all these mares and we wouldn't want to give someone a problem with a foal that's going to be compromised because of the condition she was in when she came in."
DeCaprio estimated it could cost about $150,000 to care for the horses in the next 11 months. Workers are trying to raise money to purchase an ultrasound machine to care for the pregnant horses.
"This is not a sad case of animal cruelty," DeCaprio said. "This is something that can unite a community and can help us to look at ways to protect the most innocent victims in our society, and that's our children and our animals."
Lassen County District Attorney Bob Burns said he is reviewing the animal cruelty case and would not discuss any details. He said he was "never not interested" in the case.
Detectives seized methamphetamine, marijuana and five firearms from Bennett's Susanville property.
Bennett is being held at the Lassen County Jail on a $15,000 bail.