The Dennis Danley case proved that monitoring horse neglect isn’t an easy or surefire process.
Not once. Not twice. Three times.
That’s how often law enforcement has interceded on behalf of horses under the care of race horse trainer Dennis B. Danley, who was under court orders not to own or care for horses when 48 neglected Thoroughbreds were seized from a farm Danley’s training partner leased near Middleburg, Va.
The horses are now safe in the custody of Loudoun County officials. Their conditions are improving, and they’re being readied for re-homing. But questions remain—how did someone twice convicted of animal abuse come to be responsible for the care of four dozen Thoroughbreds, including stallions and mares in foal?
It’s been a long, slow climb, but animal abuse cases today are increasingly taken seriously by local law enforcement, instead of being brushed off as unimportant and offenders punished only with a slap on the wrist. In part this is certainly due to the tremendous public outcry over any case involving mistreatment of an animal, but also because research has shown that there’s a correlation between abuse of animals and abuse of people. Many individuals who eventually commit crimes against their fellow humans first abuse animals.
Lawmakers in all but seven states have moved to make animal abuse a felony instead of just a misdemeanor. (Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Missouri, North and South Dakota, and Utah are the remaining states without felony provisions for animal abuse.) When individuals are convicted, their sentences or plea agreements often dictate that they must seek psychiatric counseling or submit to home inspections by animal control officers. In many cases, individuals are actually barred from owning or caring for animals for a period of time.
But the Danley case illustrates just how difficult it can be to apply and enforce those protections. The priority given to animal abuse cases varies among local jurisdictions, as does the manpower dedicated to them—skinny horses in a field may not rank high on the to-do list in a particular locality, or there simply may not be enough investigators to thoroughly follow up on a complaint. For those who have already been convicted, it’s usually up to parole officers to monitor their compliance with the terms of theirprobation, if monitoring is conducted at all.
If a convicted abuser manages to slip through the cracks, animals may again be at risk.
A Trail Of Neglect
Danley, of Charles Town, W.Va., has more than 30 years of experience breeding and training race horses, according to a biography posted on the website of his business, Shenandoah Equine Investments, in 2006. (The business, founded in May 2002, was terminated in August 2006, according to the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office.) He stood the stallions Stately Cielo (Conquistador Cielo—State, Nijinksy), Zizou (Quiet American—Starstruck, Soviet Star), Sandlot Star (Seattle Slew—Lady Madonna, Chief’s Crown) and Jo Jo Dancer (Boones Mill—Dance For Jan, Citidancer).