Today, Monday, February 27, 2012, the Queen Anne’s County Department of Animal Services (QA Animal Control) entered into an agreement with Marsha Parkinson that authorizes the return of 63 horses.

During the last week of April 2011, QA Animal Control, with the assistance of the Humane Society of the United States and the logistical coordination of Days End Farm Horse Rescue, seized or euthanized 140 Polish Arabian Horses located on Parkinson’s Canterbury Farm in Centreville, Maryland; the horses were considered to be in various stages of neglect. Parkinson approved the euthanasia of some of the horses, so the State only charged her with neglect for the remaining 133 cases.

In return for pleading no contest to 10 counts of neglect, and for signing an agreement that allows QA Animal Control to continue to monitor the horses for one year, Parkison will be able to collect 63 horses, while relinquishing ownership of the remaining horses.

The agreement includes the following stipulations:

  • The 63 horses will be returned in phases over the course of 5 months;
  • QA Animal Control will inspect the farm before the first shipment of horses arrives, and will monitor the farm with a monthly scheduled inspection and a monthly surprise inspection;
  • A veterinarian will inspect all horses once a month for one year;
  • Parkinson is prohibited from breeding horses for one year;
  • Parkinson is prohibited from having more than 63 horses on the Centreville farm;
  • Parkinson must pay $20,000 to Days End Horse Farm to help defray costs of care.

Parkinson will likewise spend the 12 months on a probationary status. If she violates her probationary status or violates the terms of the agreement, Judge John Nunn warned her that he can immediately invoke the stiffest penalties possible: a $1,000 fine per count (or $10,000) and 90 days in jail per count (for a total of 900 days of incarceration).

Immediately following the acceptance of the agreement by the court, Parkinson’s attorney, Jonathan P. Kagan, released the following statement:

“On April 29, 2011, Queen Anne’s County Animal Control (“Animal Control”) with the assistance of the Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”), conducted a warrantless seizure of 133 Polish Arabian horses… The State then charged Ms. Parkinson with 133 counts of misdemeanor animal neglect. Ms. Parkinson has always denied the charges of any type of neglect and that none of her horses were ever suffering nor in any danger. Ms. Parkinson maintains that the seizure of all the horses by Animal Control and HSUS, a private non-profit organization, is illegal.

Don Henneke, PhD., Director of Equine Science at Tarleton State University in Texas, was prepared to testify as an expert for the defense. Dr. Henneke developed the Body Conditioning Scare for horses that is used internationally. It is frequently referred to as the “Henneke Scale.” Dr. Henneke reviewed the evidence and in his professional opinion, HSUS and its rescue partners (the groups responsible for the seizure) “showed a complete lack of understanding” in the application of the equine body condition scale as applied to Ms. Parkison’s horse and “exhibited extreme bias.” He concluded that “the charges of neglect against Ms. Parkinson were not warranted. The horses should not have been removed from her control and custody.”

Under the agreement, The State dismissed 123 counts, and Ms. Parkinson pled “no contest” to 10 counts of “failing to provide adequate shelter.” The court struck all ten counts and entered a probation before judgment, which is not a conviction on any of the counts.  Ms. Parkinson will eventually apply to the court to expunge the record of the 10 misdemeanor counts not dismissed…”

It should be noted that this statement was prepared prior to the actual courtroom hearing. During the hearing, the judge refused to hear details regarding the neglect charges, noting that since Parkinson was pleading no contest to “misdemeanor neglect,” there was no reason to elaborate on that in the court, therefore, Parkinson could not have pled “no contest” to “failure to provide adequate shelter,” only to “neglect.” It should also be noted that, with this plead of “no contest” and this agreement, she gets only 63 horses returned, not all the horses.

It should likewise be noted that, in order to have her record expunged, according to State’s Attorney Lance Richardson, the Parkinson will have to meet all the terms of the agreement and then wait for three years after her probation ends before filing a request to have her record expunged; in other words, it will be a minimum of 4 years before the 67 year old horse breeder will be able to file the request.

That being said, it remains unclear whether or not the county really did have the authority to seize all the horses.  It is possible that it is a matter of interpretation of Maryland code. (Our readers should try to remember that legal authority and what is permissible by law is not the same thing as what may or may not be morally or ethically right or wrong.) Parkinson contends that the county did not have the legal authority for the seizure:

“They (Animal Control and HSUS) had no basis to take my horses and I should have never been charged. HSUS saw an opportunity to grab headlines and raise significant money in order to further their own agenda at my expense… Although I would have liked to have had my day in court to prove my innocence of the false allegations and rumors of cruelty and abuse, I am happy to get my horses back and move on with my life on the farm.”

After court, representatives from HSUS refused to answer any questions, stating that  contrary to Parkison’s assertions – the role of the HSUS has been to merely assist QA Animal Control, at the request and invitation of QA Animal Control, with handling the animals. Later, HSUS Public Information Officer Jordan Crump supplied the following official statement:

The Humane Society of the United States, Days End Farm Horse Rescue, and several other Maryland horse rescue groups assisted in the removal of 133 horses seized by Queen Anne’s County Animal Services from Marsha Parkinson in April of last year and over the last ten months we have seen them thrive under our care.  Although we are deeply disappointed in the outcome of the criminal case against Parkinson, we are also enormously grateful to the Queen Anne’s County Animal Services Director, Dave MacGlashan and State’s Attorney Lance Richardson for their tireless and expert work in this important case. 

Queen Anne’s County is clearly committed to enforcing Maryland’s animal protection laws. The court-ordered oversight of Parkinson will help ensure that horses will not suffer in violation of the plea agreement or the law. In the meantime, everyone involved in the care of the horses is comforted that a majority of them will be surrendered to the County and we will be able to begin placing them in new, happy homes. 

The outpouring of support from the Maryland horse community for these animals has been tremendous and we are so grateful to all the farms, veterinarians, farriers, dentists, and feed suppliers who contributed their resources, time, and expertise to help these animals.

Neither the prosecution nor the defense apparently were willing to risk a trial. Richardson noted that even if the State were to have prevailed in court this week, Parkison surely would have appealed and the case could have been tied up for years. As a result, the horses legal ownership status would have continued in limbo for possibly years, making it impossible to re-home or adopt the horses until the case was finally settled, possibly years from now. Richardson believes that it is in the best interest of the horses to achieve a settlement sooner rather than later, and is satisfied that Parkison pled “no contest” to some of the charges.

For Parkinson, her post-court statement indicated that she too wished to avoid a protracted legal battle: “Without an agreement…the case could have spent years in the system before it was resolved. Ms. Parkinson understood it was best to not continue the court battle.”

Clearly our readers will have more questions than this post can answer. Already the internet is vibrating with speculation, rumors, and accusations. The Equiery will do its best to bring you as much verified information as possible and to accurately and factually answer as our readers’ questions.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Please forgive any proofreading errors, as they are a result of attempting to post this information to our readers quickly.