August 2009
by Ellie Trueman

On June 22, 2009, Robert W. Curry of Poolesville pled guilty in Montgomery County Circuit Court to three misdemeanors counts for animal neglect. Although Curry received 270 days in jail as part of the sentence, Judge Ann Harrington suspended all jail time. Curry will be on five years of supervised probation and will be allowed to keep no more than one horse. At the July 14 Circuit Court hearing, the judge determine that any restitution would need to be a civil matter.

The Curry equine neglect case actually began as cruelty case on October 3, 2008 when horses were found running loose in the vicinity of Martinsburg Road outside of Poolesville. A neighbor trying to help capture the horses discovered a horse dead in the field and several other horses in severe emaciated condition. The Montgomery County Animal Services Division found an emaciated dead horse and several other horses suffering from apparent signs of neglect. The dead horse was transported to the Maryland Department of Agriculture Animal Health Laboratory in College Park for necropsy to determine the cause of death. Officers ordered Curry to contact a local veterinarian to examine the ill horses. Officers reported that Curry kept approximately 31 horses on the property.

On October 4, the veterinarian determined that three horses were in critical condition. A search and seizure warrant was obtained for the three horses. Upon further investigation, a fourth horse was also found to be in critical need of care. One of the seized horses was nursing a foal and the foal was also seized. The horses in need of critical attention were placed in the care of Day’s End Farm Horse Rescue Organization in Howard County.

Once at Day’s End Farm, experts determined that two of the horses were in such poor condition that they should be humanely euthanized. “Because of their emaciated condition, coupled with injuries and infection that had gone untreated, rehabilitation was not an option,” explained Brooke Vrany, assistant director of Day’s End Farm.

In January 2009, prosecutors charged Curry with six counts of aggravated animal cruelty (felony charges) and four counts of animal abuse or neglect (misdemeanor charges). With plea bargaining, the felony cruelty charges were reduced to the three misdemeanors.

What seemed to confuse, and-in many cases-anger the local horse community most was the appearance that State’s Attorney’s office, despite three dead horses, was not prosecuting Curry to the fullest extent of the law. In addition to the three dead horses, the photo of Curry’s emaciated horse in the May 20 issue of The Gazette newspaper, coupled with the fact that this was not the first time Curry had been reported to Animal Control for neglecting his horses, helped to fuel suspicion that that this animal cruelty case had not been properly prosecuted and that animal cruelty was not a priority in Montgomery County.

However, in order to charge and convict for a felony animal cruelty, prosecutors must prove intent to harm (see sidebar for definition of felony animal cruelty), and the State’s Attorney’s office was unable to find sufficient evidence to prove intent to harm, while evidence of misdemeanor charge of neglect was abundant. The necropsy was, according to Seth Zucker, spokesperson for the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s office, “inconclusive as to cause of death.” Zucker went on to explain, “Our office takes animal cruelty cases very seriously. We have several cases that document that we have and we will continue to prosecute animal cruelty cases to the fullest extent of the law. Our office pursued this case quite aggressively. We spent an enormous amount of time and effort on this case in an attempt to prosecute the felony charges. We conferred extensively with several horse and veterinary experts in an attempt to secure the evidence needed, but the evidence was simply not available to meet the standard of a felony conviction.”

Brooke Vrany of Day’s End confirmed Zucker’s explanation of the case. “There is a significant burden of proof of ‘intent’ to be able to secure a felony conviction for animal cruelty in Maryland. Officer Thomas of the Montgomery County Animal Services Division was very proactive on this case. For a felony cruelty conviction in Maryland, you must be able to prove intent. Unfortunately, the evidence to meet that standard was not available in this case.”

According to a statement by Curry’s attorney Rene Sandler, which appeared in The Gazette newspaper, Curry admitted to providing inadequate veterinary care to three of the horses. Although Curry claims to be a farrier, Sandler admitted that their hooves had gone an extended period of time without being trimmed. In the same article, Curry also admitted that he had not fed the horses in several days and that there was not adequate pasture to support the large herd.

“This was a horrific case of abuse,” Vrany stated. “The suffering of the horses prior to being reported cannot be undone by any punishment Curry receives. We can only hope that with each animal abuse and cruelty case, we can send a stronger, more effective message that we all need to be vigilant about the animals around us and report any possible cases of abuse as soon as possible. The other message that will hopefully be broadcast from [this] is that abuse, neglect and animal cruelty will be legally prosecuted. Getting this message out will move us closer to protecting horses and other animals from this type of egregious neglect, abuse and suffering.”

Maryland Annotated Code – Felony Crimes §10-606

Aggravated cruelty to animals – In general

(a) Prohibited.- A person may not:
(1) intentionally mutilate, torture, cruelly beat, or cruelly kill an animal;
(2) cause, procure, or authorize an act prohibited under item (1) of this subsection; or
(3) except in the case of self-defense, intentionally inflict bodily harm, permanent disability, or death on an animal owned or used by a law enforcement unit.

(b) Penalty.-
(1) A person who violates this section is guilty of the felony of aggravated cruelty to animals and on conviction is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 3 years or a fine not exceeding $5,000 or both.
(2) As a condition of sentencing, the court may order a defendant convicted of violating this section to participate in and pay for psychological counseling

Minimum Standards of Care

Maryland’s Cruelty to Animals Statutes, Article 27, section 59 (b) 2, all animals, including domestic, as well as horses and other farm animals, must be provided a minimum standard of care, defined as “nutritious food in sufficient quantity, necessary veterinary care, proper drink, air, space and protection from the weather.”