Guilty pleas submitted in cruelty cases

Published 8:02 pm Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Suffolk woman whose five horses were found starving and in otherwise poor condition in a wooded area along Wilroy Road in October pleaded guilty on Thursday to 10 cruelty-related misdemeanor charges.

Jennifer Eileen Harrell, 33, of Deer Path Road, was convicted on five charges of animal cruelty for treatment of the horses. She also pleaded guilty to four counts of animal cruelty for treatment of dogs that were found in poor conditions at her home in November and to one count of failing to provide a dog with adequate shelter.

As a part of the plea agreement, the commonwealth agreed not to prosecute nine other charges related to allegedly inadequate care of rabbits and other animals.

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Harrell was sentenced to six months in jail for each of the five original charges, with all of that time suspended, and she will be required to pay $2,500 in restitution to the city of Suffolk for the horses’ care, as well as $850 to a boarder who kept the animals while awaiting a judge’s order for them to be forfeited.

Furthermore, prosecutor Susan Walton said Thursday evening, Harrell will be allowed to keep only one domesticated animal and one livestock animal, and she cannot breed any animals. She also must submit to unannounced inspections of her home by animal control officers and remain on good behavior for a period of five years.

“We’re minimizing the possibility that this can happen to any future animals,” Walton said. “These horses were in horrible shape.”

When someone complained about the number of horses Harrell had on her property, city officials responded by telling her she had to move some of them, defense attorney Justin Bush said following Thursday’s trial. Harrell found a property to lease along Wilroy Road, moved five of her horses there and had them tied up in the woods while a fence was built, he said.

Neighbors of that property noticed the horses on Sept. 26 and called for animal control to come out and help.

Two of the horses and a pony were tied to trees with dog leashes, and the other horses were roaming free on the property when animal control officers arrived. All were severely undernourished, and all suffered from skin infections.

All five horses were taken from the property, but one was euthanized the following day. A judge later ordered the other four horses to be forfeited.

Walton said the four surviving horses responded well and quickly to proper care and feeding, gaining as much as 186 pounds since being rescued.

Three of the four have been adopted. Animal control officers continue to look for a home for a stallion pony rescued from the scene.

“It would have been better if she’d just let [the horses] out into a field or pasture to fend for themselves,” Walton said. “If people get in over their heads, they need to find someone out there who can help them. You can’t just allow these animals to starve to death.”

Bush described Harrell as an animal-lover who “rescued” troubled animals and eventually found herself overwhelmed by her situation.

“She didn’t intentionally do this stuff to the animals,” Bush said. “She just doesn’t necessarily have the skills or the finances to take care of them properly.”

Officers were called to Harrell’s Deer Path Road home on Nov. 23, where they discovered two horses standing in the mud with questionable shelter.

While on the property, they discovered problems with the care of domesticated animals and lodged a new set of charges against Harrell. Those charges were all settled as part of Thursday’s agreement.