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Cleared of charges, woman wants horses back

November 19, 1996

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Two years ago, animal rescue volunteers took seven horses from a farm just outside Charles Town under a seizure order signed by a Jefferson County Magistrate.

A West Virginia Department of Agriculture veterinarian checked 31 horses on the farm and recommended the seven be removed, said Sheriff William Senseney, who said his department had been receiving complaints about the conditions of the animals.

But in March, a jury in Jefferson County Circuit Court found Debra Baird and Gary Dunn, the owners of the horses, not guilty of animal cruelty, a misdemeanor that carries a punishment of up to a year in jail.

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Today, Baird is calling the case a "horrible, horrible misunderstanding," and she wants her horses back.

Baird said the horses were not sick, and on two occasions a sheriff's deputy inspected the animals and seemed satisfied with the way they were being cared for.

"It should have never happened," said Baird, referring to the case.

Senseney, who has been trying to help Baird recover her horses, said he will change the way his department handles cruelty cases if a similar incident arises. Primarily, Senseney said he will no longer allow horses seized in such cases to be taken out of Jefferson County.

Five of the horses were taken by the Maryland Horse Rescue Center Inc. of Eldersburg, Md., according to Senseney. One of the horses was adopted by a person in Maryland, but Senseney said he has had trouble finding where the other four horses are.

Senseney said he also has had difficulty in finding members of the horse rescue group. Officials with the group could not be reached Monday.

The other two horses were taken to the Hillside Stables Equine Center Inc. of Berkeley Springs. Those two horses were returned to Baird two weeks ago, Senseney said.

Jefferson County Assistant Prosecutor Bernice Weinstein, who handled the case against Baird and Dunn, said she doesn't know why the jury found the two not guilty of animal cruelty. "All you had to do is look at the pictures of those horses and the videos of them," Weinstein said.

Baird, 44, of Kearneysville, said she has 15 horses and one pony on her 15-acre farm, which is about four miles west of Charles Town along W.Va. 51. Baird said she and her daughter show horses while Dunn, her business partner, breeds horses for racing.

Dunn, of 155 Valley Drive, Bunker Hill, could not be reached for comment.

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