The Public Eye

Animal rescue group woes leave El Dorado County saddled with 91 horses

A longtime animal rescue group has run out of cash, leaving El Dorado County officials scrambling to provide care to an unprecedented 91 horses.

The nonprofit Grace Foundation was formally evicted Nov. 20 from a private ranch off Latrobe Road after losing its insurance, said the foundation’s executive director, Beth DeCaprio. Since then, 91 horses, along with several goats, chickens and pigs, have been placed in the protective custody of El Dorado County Animal Services.

Local authorities are responsible for impounding animals that remain following an eviction in accordance with state law. But the case has tested the capabilities of the county’s animal services agency.

“It’s not cheap to feed that many animals,” said El Dorado County Animal Services Chief Henry Brzezinski. “We’re talking 91 horses and multiple miscellaneous livestock.”

This is the largest seizure of animals in a decade for El Dorado County, more than the 75 goats that were impounded during an animal cruelty case several years ago, Brzezinski said. Those animals were eventually put up for adoption.

So far, the county has spent several thousand dollars caring for the 91 horses, including food and veterinary services, according to Brzezinski. Officials hope to recover the costs via a lien that must be paid by the animals’ owners. But costs are rising, and the county won’t have an opportunity to recoup its money until a hearing Wednesday where prospective owners can lay claim to their animals.

For now, the horses remain on the ranch with permission from the property owner – a godsend for county officials because a new animal facility that opened three months ago has capacity for only 14 livestock.

Meanwhile, officials have enlisted the help of volunteers to staff the ranch. Local animal groups have pitched in with donations, including the Loomis Basin Horsemen’s Association, which donated $500 for emergency supplies, board member Robert Sydnor said.

The eviction last month of the Grace Foundation caps years of legal wrangling and disputes that started in 2011 when the group agreed to take possession of 32 horses from Lassen County. After three years, DeCaprio said, the foundation was informed that the horses were part of a criminal case that has yet to be settled, and therefore the foundation’s ownership was nullified.

She said the group ended up taking care of horses that weren’t theirs.

Caring for the original 32 horses, which later spawned an additional 15, has nearly bankrupted the organization, DeCaprio said. She is seeking more than $2 million from Lassen County, based on standard rates for boarding.

“We’re hoping to resolve the lien at the hearing,” DeCaprio said. “That’s why we haven’t filed for bankruptcy.”

The eviction also means that 50 of the foundation’s own horses are in the custody of El Dorado County.

Lassen County officials were unavailable for comment Wednesday.

Brzezinski said El Dorado officials have received requests from “individuals related to this case” on retrieving the 91 horses. He declined to name the potential horse owners in question.

Prospective owners will have a week to pay the liens and claim the animals following the January hearing. If any horses go unclaimed, Brzezinski said the county would examine options, including adoption.

Call The Bee’s Richard Chang at (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.

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