Despite losing a judgment last month in a civil animal cruelty hearing – a loss that will cost taxpayers nearly $30,000 in animal care fees – Anderson County is pursuing criminal charges against a local couple accused of mistreating their horses, cattle, and goats.
Anderson County District Attorney Allyson Mitchell on Monday declined to comment on the animal cruelty case, citing the criminal case her office is preparing against Michael and Francis Dear.
On Oct. 21, Judge Dwight Phifer ordered the Anderson County Sheriff's Office to return nearly 100 cows, horses, and goats seized from the Dears in September. The county seized the animals after Captain Ginger Lively of the Anderson County Sheriff's Office found 31 dead cows and horses on the Dears' property while investigating a foul odor complaint.
The 31 animals had died of dehydration, after the livestock were mistakenly locked in a paddock, away from their water source.
Phifer's ruling overrode a September ruling by Judge Gary Thomas, who found the Dears responsible for cruel treatment of livestock, and ordered all animals seized from the Dear property to be auctioned. During the initial hearing, the Dears were ordered to pay housing, vet, and court fees.
But Anderson County is now on the hook for the remaining $30,000 owed to the Anderson County Livestock Auction, Palestine Veterinary Hospital, and several cowboys who worked the cattle for the Sheriff's Office.
“I'm glad the cost to the taxpayers is finally going public,” Charles Nichols, attorney for the Dears, told the Herald-Press Monday. “Seizure of healthy animals is simply not provided for in the statutes for cruelty to animals.”
The court ruled the Dears were responsible only for the care of two of the horses, arguing those two animals had been treated cruelly. Housing, feed, and vet fees for those two animals amounted to roughly $1,000.
Nichols said the bill has been settled.
The two animals are reportedly in good condition with access to food and clean water, but not yet ready for adoption.
James and DeeDee Turnage, who serve on the Humane Society's board of directors, are caring for the animals.
James Turnage said he noticed the mare could not walk freely without pain and discomfort. On Oct. 15, he had the animals evaluated by veterinarian Steve Hicks of Montalba. Both animals were evaluated, vaccinated, and treated by Hicks, who found no signs of abuse.
Hicks determined the mare had thin soles and showed signs of laminitis, a deterioration of the foot and leg that affects her mobility. He prescribed equine wooden clogs, which the mare has worn to reverse the laminitis, a common condition in horses. Treatment will continue until a follow-up x-ray shows the laminitis has disappeared.
“Once we are ready to adopt we will advertise to the public.” Turnage said. “Potential adoptees will be vetted before accepted as the new owners.”
Citing upcoming criminal charges, the Dears declined to comment.