ANTIOCH -- Animal control officers could barely see Jazmine as they walked onto the dusty Antioch ranch.
The chestnut Arabian mare with a white stripe down her snout was standing unsteadily, gingerly, in a darkened converted metal garage that housed her and Bronco, a brown stallion. As officers walked her out of the makeshift stable -- full of feces, urine and flies -- and into daylight, the first thing they noticed was her protruding ribs. It's a feature common to horses that are 300 to 400 pounds underweight, investigators said.
Most of the dozen or so animals found on Jose Godinez's 1-acre¿ Deer Hill Lane ranch that September day were severely malnourished, said investigators, noting it was one of the worst animal abuse cases they had seen in the city.
In the months since, Godinez has been charged with two felony animal abuse counts and, of his animals that survived, all have been adopted out.
Jazmine is the exception. The 18-year-old horse, now healthy except for some wobbly back feet -- a consequence of her neglect -- is looking for a permanent home while she stays on a foster ranch owned by an Antioch police officer.
Animal control officers first learned of the mistreatment Sept. 13 when they responded to a report of a skinny horse and found a small, unkempt ranch with an assortment of sick animals. There was a pig that could not reach his drinking bucket because the water was caked with thick slime. Jazmine, the stallion, a gelding and a pony had no food except for feces-covered hay on the ground and mildewing bales of hay, said Antioch Animal Services Supervisor ¿Monika Helgemo.
The owner was cited and given two dozen corrections to make.
"A vet tells him to do this, this and this," Helgemo said. "And he kept saying, 'Yes, yes and yes.'"
However, they returned the next day and nothing had changed. Animal Services would return nine times over the next three weeks, documenting the mistreatment, treating sick animals and listening to more broken promises, Helgemo said.
Godinez told investigators he got the horses for his daughter, and friends would bring him their unwanted animals, Helgemo said.
"He will say how he's trying to save the animals, but they don't need saving like that," Helgemo said. "It got to a point where we said, 'We're done playing games here.'"
On subsequent visits they found nine goats, six roosters (that appeared to be fighting cocks) and a litter of puppies, she said.
They started impounding animals and some did not make it, including one puppy who died the next day with his stool consisting of weeds, stickers and blood, Helgemo said. Only two baby goats were saved, as the other seven mysteriously disappeared the day they were to be surrendered, she said.
Antioch police Lt. Diane Aguinaga got involved to build a potential criminal case.
"I oversee Animal Services and it's the worst I've seen and we couldn't let him get away with it," she said. "They were allowed to sit out there and rot."
Godinez -- who could not be reached and whose public defender did not return a call and email requesting comment -- always had an excuse, Aguinaga said.
"He said the horses were already thin when he got them and they had put on weight, he let them wear no shoes so they could be natural, he lied about seeing the vet," she said. "He made up excuse after excuse."
All the animals were eventually impounded, but he was allowed to keep Bronco, who was healthy, Helgemo said.
After the stallion escaped the ranch numerous times, Helgemo said they told Godinez to fix his gate and get Bronco neutered, but on Oct. 9 he got out again and was hit by a car on nearby Deer Valley Road. The driver was injured in the collision, and the horse had to be euthanized by¿ a responding police officer, Aguinaga said.
Godinez was taken into custody on two counts of felony animal abuse on March 20 and bailed out two days later. He has an Aug. 27 preliminary hearing.
"I hope he gets convicted and I hope he can never own animals again," Aguinaga said.
Meanwhile, the gentle Jazmine has been staying at Antioch police officer Loren Bledsoe's Brentwood ranch. He and his wife Corinna are fostering the horse while Animal Services tries to find her a permanent home.
"She's very sweet, but because of neglect, she does have a problem with her legs, so she wears special shoes," Helgemo said. "She could be a small child's horse to ride or a pasture mate. She could live in a pasture and be happy."
Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.
Interested in adopting Jazmine, the 18-year-old chestnut Arabian mare? Contact Antioch Animal Services at 925-779-6990 or firstname.lastname@example.org.