Horse owner charged with animal cruelty
Waynesville police arrested a local man Monday evening charging him with cruelty to animals after the death of Bucky, a 6-year-old stallion, who died from extreme malnourishment and a blood stream filled with parasites and worms.
Toney Martinez, 43, of 53 Cindy Lane, Waynesville, pulled into the driveway when police arrived at his home to serve the warrant for arrest, which was issued earlier that day.
According to the police report, Martinez was clearly upset when he found out the reason for his arrest and told Sgt. Timothy O’Neill that he did not understand why he was being arrested because he had already turned the horse over to animal control.
Martinez was placed under $1,000 secured bond, but had enough cash to pay his own bond and was taken back to his home. He is scheduled to appear in district court April 18.
Bucky’s fight for life
Animal Control launched an investigation into Bucky’s health March 1 and Martinez relinquished the horse’s care to STAR Ranch Rescue, an organization for abused and neglected horses in Haywood County.
Martinez, a native of Mexico, had kept the horse tethered in a small area for years. Karen Owens, co-owner of the rescue organization, said she had gone with animal control to check on Bucky’s condition sometime in 2008 after receiving calls from concerned people in the community.
Although he was tethered with no room to roam, he appeared to be well-fed and taken care of.
“What we did not know was that he was not wormed. Finally the worms caught up to him,” she said.
It’s not illegal to keep a horse tied up, Owens pointed out, but being kept in one spot can begin to take it’s toll.
“It doesn’t matter what he was tied to, the fact was he was tethered and being treated like a dog. It’s not illegal, but the problem with doing it to a horse is they are grazers and they need space to roam and be with other horses.”
When STAR Ranch took over the care of Bucky on March 1, it seemed like he might have had a chance at survival, said Owens, who sought the opinion of a veterinarian before deciding the best choice for the horse.
Owens said sometimes the best option with a sick horse is to euthanize if they feel the animal has no chance of living a quality life.
“When I saw him in person, Bucky seemed like he had a chance and that’s what we grabbed at,” Owens said. “When I saw him the Saturday before he died, he was out in the sun and had so many visitors. He was grazing, he was brushed and he had a great day.”
Soon after, though, it was clear that Bucky’s health was declining regardless of the care and attention volunteers at Star Ranch could give him. He began retaining water in both back legs, a sign of kidney failure, and was found dead March 11.
Because the horse had gone so long without being treated for worms, Owens said even if they had taken care of him a year ago, he still would have been too far gone to have survived.
Bucky's condition could not have been cured with surgery, she said, and he was fighting a losing battle with worms.
“He was already into kidney failure by the time we got him,” Owens said. “It was a heartache because he had a really sweet spirit about him. It would be different if he was a really old horse, but Bucky was only 6 years old.”
Jean Hazzard, director of animal control services, chose to press charges against Martinez after the release of the postmortem exam.
Killing any animal with malice or intentional deprivation is a class H felony in North Carolina. But a prosecutor needs proof that the death was malicious and intentional in order to charge someone with the harsher felony.
District Attorney Mike Bonfoey declined to comment on the pending case with Martinez. He said the most recent case he can remember involving animal cruelty charges on a horse in Haywood County may have been as far back as the late 1990s.
Even though the charge is a misdemeanor instead of a felony, Owens is happy to see authorities take action against animal abuse.
“I’m just glad he’s charged and we’re going to tell folks ‘Look you can’t do this.’ There are cruelty charges on the book for a reason and animals deserve a fair shake. Even if they are animals that are raised to be eaten – cows or chickens, I don’t care – they all deserve a quality of life,” she said.
Owens said the only conversation she had with Martinez was when he signed the horse over to the care of the rescue center. She could not determine if the owner was upset about the horse’s condition or about giving him up.
Martinez also owns two other horses, both of which appear to be in good health, Owens said. However, outward appearance is not always an indication of what is going on inside a horse.
She is urging animal control to take a closer look at the other two horses to make sure they have been treated for worms.
“It’s really up to animal control to make sure they’re OK.”
When asked if he had treated the other horses for worms, Martinez hung up the phone.
Hazzard said she will be monitoring the two horses each week and that they do need some care on their hooves.
In the end, Owens hopes to get the message out that those who abuse animals should expect to be reprimanded.
“To finally see charges being filed I think it’s a real step forward and I think it’s time,” Owens said. “The thing that makes me feel the best is that he didn’t die in vain. He’s sending his own message that we’re the good guys.”