The Marin Humane Society in California seized two horses from a farm in the Chileno Valley area of West Marin on Dec. 27 and two additional horses on Jan. 4.
Investigators seized a stallion, now being treated at the University of California in Davis, and a malnourished mare on Dec. 27.
Lawyer Margaret Weems confirmed that all four impounded horses came from her client Jill Burnell’s Gray Fox Farm. Burnell lives on the property with her husband, Alex, and runs a breeding business there and ships semen to clients. According to the Gray Fox Farm website, stallions Redwine, Romantic Star, Federalist and Aloha stand at the farm.
According to Weems, on Dec. 26, two stallions got into a fight. Weems said a young stallion jumped out of his paddock and into another stallion’s pen. She stated that both animals were immediately attended to. While the stallion owners, veterinarians and the Burnells, who care for approximately 30 horses on the property, were deciding whether to take one of the stallions to a clinic for additional treatment on Dec. 27, the Marin Humane Society responded to a complaint about the property, at which time they impounded one of the stallions, Romantic Star, and a mare that was named on paperwork left with the Burnells as Devils Miss.
On Jan. 8, Weems filed a writ of mandamus with the court, requesting the return of the horses as well as a request to stop the MHS from further investigating the Burnells without a court order. The judge dismissed the petition.
Romantic Star was purchased by Ronda Stavisky and Rising Star Farm in Silver Creek, Ga., on Dec. 18. She said in a phone interview as well as stated on the Rising Star Facebook page that she had arranged for a shipping company to pick up the stallion on Dec. 28.
“Since that date, I have not had any information from Animal Control regarding his condition. I have been unable to make any updates because I do not have information,” wrote Stavisky. "Once I have more information, I will be making updates to my Facebook page. Barring any medical complications, I intend to honor all outstanding breeding contracts to Romantic Star."
Carrie Harrington, spokesperson of the MHS, spoke generally about the process the MHS investigators undergo during potentially neglectful or abusive situations. She explained that there are instances in which animals are not receiving proper care—generally food, water, shelter and adequate veterinary attention. If the animals are in immediate danger, the investigators may have grounds to immediately impound the animals.
“There might be an instance where the animal is not receiving proper shelter but not in immediate danger,” Harrington said. In those cases, the investigators often work with the owners and caretakers to improve the living conditions. Usually the process involves specific instructions to increase education and follow up visits to ensure compliance.
Weems said that following the first two horses being impounded, she was in contact with the MHS. They issued recommendations to Burnell, which Weems said the farm had started implementing. The humane society returned to the farm on Jan. 4 and took two additional mares.
“They were thin and requiring rehabilitative care, so they are on an off-site location under veterinary care,” said Harrington of the second seizure.
Although the MHS officials declined to speak specifically about this care, according to a statement on the MHS website, “MHS Animal Services officers found serious neglect, injuries, unsafe and inhumane living conditions for horses living on the property.”
The humane society encouraged anyone with information about the Chileno Valley case to contact the MHS Animal Services at (415) 506-6209.