The Public Eye

Reports from the Bee's investigative team

July 28, 2010
Five horses dead in San Joaquin County. Did heat kill them?

Sweltering heat in the Central Valley has become a potential criminal matter in San Joaquin County. The district attorney's office in Stockton is weighing whether to bring criminal charges against the owner of five horses suspected of dying of thirst in a pasture near Tracy.

Deputy Les Garcia of the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department would not disclose the name of the owner, whose horses were reported down July 15 by a passing motorist.

Temperatures were into the 90s when the animals died, and investigators were examining the possibility they had been without water for several days. Another two horses suffering from possible dehydration are being treated, Garcia said.

Animal cruelty laws differ widely from state to state, according to a 2006 study by the American Prosecutors Research Institute. The study, funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, found that most reported cases of animal cruelty involve failure to provide adequate food, water, shelter or veterinary care - and that offenders generally are given education instead of prison terms.

"However, cases involving large numbers of animals or which cause death or serious debilitation
of animals may be charged as serious misdemeanor or even felony offenses," the researchers found.

In California, a person accused of depriving animals of water or food can be charged with a misdemeanor or felony, and faces possible prison time and a fine of up to $20,000. San Joaquin County Deputy DA Robert Himelblau said the office is assembling reports and will decide in the next few weeks whether to file charges.

-- Marjie Lundstrom

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