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Owner guilty of cruelty to horses

January 08, 1997

By MARLO BARNHART

Staff Writer

Thirteen horses, including 11 confiscated last October for malnutrition and neglect, were made the property of the Washington County SPCA Wednesday when their owner was convicted of animal cruelty in Washington County District Court.

Gerald W. Hubbard, 53, of 18128 Taylors Landing Road in Sharpsburg, was given probation before judgment on all 11 counts by Judge Fred Bower, the chief district judge for Frederick and Washington counties who usually sits in Frederick County.

The conditions of his three-year probation included the forfeiture of all 13 horses and a court order that Hubbard not own any more horses for three years.

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"We are dealing with common sense here not expertise," Bower said.

Hubbard's defense centered around his contentions that he did the best he could for the horses.

He testified in detail that he had hay, water, corn, medicine and other items available on his farm to meet the needs of the horses.

Defense witness Don Schwartz, extension agent in Washington County, acknowledged that he inspected the Hubbard farm in October and wrote a letter saying that there was adequate food, shelter, water and other items on the farm for the horses.

"I would describe the Hubbard farm as a day late and a dollar short," Schwartz said, noting that he visited after the 11 horses were gone.

But Schwartz was visibly disturbed when he viewed the color photo array prepared for the state's case - photos showing horses with bony ribs, foundering hooves and skin infections.

"It is obvious that care was not maintained," Schwartz said after viewing the pictures.

Several veterinarians testified that they examined the horses and found them to be malnourished and in poor general health.

Hubbard said he spent six to seven hours a day caring for the 13 horses on his 25-acre farm.

He specifically testified that he gave regular worm medicine to a 3-year-old mare named Charity - a horse that had to be destroyed when it was found to be riddled with worms.

Hubbard said Sherlock, a 14-year-old palomino stallion, was suffering from a crippling hoof ailment when he bought the horse five years ago.

That testimony was emotionally countered by Sherlock's former owner, Melody Jacques of Smithsburg, who tearfully showed the judge pictures of the then 9-year-old registered quarter horse at the time she sold him to Hubbard.

Pictures of Sherlock taken in October showed the horse standing in manure in a shed with no feed available. The animal's hooves were overgrown and its legs shook when it tried to move, court records said.

Sherlock's ribs, withers and hip bones were prominently visible, court records said.

Animal control officers and a veterinarian removed the 11 horses on Oct. 11, 1996, from 17700 and 17702 Taylors Landing Road north of Sharpsburg in response to a complaint, court records said.

SPCA officials in September and December of 1995 had advised Hubbard to properly care for the horses so they would remain in satisfactory condition, court records said.

The 11 animals were removed to Day's End Farm in Lisbon, Md., a horse rescue facility that opened in 1989.

Testimony Wednesday revealed that the 10 remaining horses are improving. Sherlock, for instance, is able to trot and canter again now that his hoof problem has been addressed.

There was no reluctance to grant probation before judgment to Hubbard, either from Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Joe Michael or SPCA attorney Arthur Schneider.

"I am not prosecuting Hubbard for being poor," Michael said. "I am prosecuting him for poorly treating his animals."

He referred to Hubbard's testimony that food and medicine were "there" for the horses. "But that only underlines the fact that they were deprived of those things," Michael said, referring to the pictures.

Defense attorney Bob MacMeekin, of Baltimore, argued that Hubbard was simply in over his head.

"He didn't have the sophistication to know," MacMeekin said.

Michael countered that sophistication had nothing to do with it. "It wasn't the SPCA's job to make sure these horses were nourished, it was Hubbard's," Michael said.

In Maryland, an animal cruelty conviction carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail, a $1,000 fine or both.

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