The Marin Humane Society released a photo of Pookie, one of four horses it seized from Gray Fox Farms. Investigators said horses there were eating bark off
The Marin Humane Society released a photo of Pookie, one of four horses it seized from Gray Fox Farms. Investigators said horses there were eating bark off bushes because of insufficient pasture or feed. (Marin Humane Society)

Two Marin County breeders who have been mired in litigation over alleged horse abuses are now facing criminal charges as well.

Jill and Alex Burnell, the proprietors of Gray Fox Farms LLC, were arraigned Thursday on five felony counts of animal cruelty, according to the district attorney's office.

The couple is also charged with five misdemeanor counts of keeping an animal without proper care, three misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty and a violation of operating a commercial animal establishment without a permit.

The couple pleaded not guilty before Judge James Ritchie. The preliminary examination of the evidence was set for July 1.

"In my opinion, this has been an unjust persecution of this couple," their lawyer, Robert Weems, said after the arraignment. "The nature of the allegations that have been made have caused these people to be damned no matter what happens."

The Burnells theoretically could face more than five years in custody if convicted, but the felonies could be reduced to misdemeanors and they could be granted probation.

The criminal charges are the latest development in a dispute that has pitted the breeders against the Marin Humane Society and generated a volume of Internet commentary in the equestrian community.

The Marin Humane Society launched an investigation at the ranch in December, saying about two dozen horses were being subjected to "serious neglect, injuries, unsafe and inhumane living


Advertisement

conditions."

Animal welfare officers confiscated three allegedly malnourished mares and an injured stallion, and started monitoring the remaining horses. The ranch, which is near Chileno Valley, still has about 30 horses on site.

The criminal complaint alleges cruelty or mistreatment against eight horses: Romantic Star, Pookie, Radieshen, Blackie, Nutsie, Aloha, Federalist and Red Wine.

The ranch has denied mistreating the animals. Meanwhile, it has litigation pending against the Marin Humane Society, demanding the return of the seized horses.

In a May 22 court filing, the ranch said the Marin Humane Society, driven by its own "fanaticism," acted without legal authority, ignored due process and "promoted vicious gossip" about the Burnells in the "Internet echo chamber."

The Marin Humane Society has said previously that its officers have the "discretionary authority" to seize animals if they think prompt action is needed to protect their health and safety or to thwart animal cruelty.

The next hearing in the litigation is set for Wednesday before Judge Roy Chernus.

Contact Gary Klien via email at gklien@marinij.com or https://twitter.com/GaryKlien

---

©2013 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)

Visit The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) at www.marinij.com