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Sharpsburg horse owner enters plea to animal cruelty charges

April 04, 2007|by ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN - A Sharpsburg woman who kept malnourished, injured and worm-infested horses on her Sharpsburg farm entered into a plea agreement Tuesday, entering an Alford plea to one felony count of animal cruelty and pleading guilty to 10 misdemeanor counts of animal neglect in Washington County Circuit Court.

Under an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges that the state has sufficient evidence to gain a conviction.

Barbara Perry Reinken, 62, was sentenced to three years in prison and a $5,000 fine on the felony count with 10 additional 90-day consecutive sentences for the misdemeanors. Washington County Circuit Judge M. Kenneth Long suspended the sentences and ordered Reinken to undergo a mental health evaluation.

As part of the plea agreement, Reinken was placed on five years of probation to be supervised by the Department of Social Services. The supervision will include home inspections. She also relinquished to the Humane Society of Washington County the 70 horses that were seized from her farm in December 2006.

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Reinken was allowed to keep her five dogs and six cats, but under the agreement she can not have any other animals during her probation.

Reinken faced four felony charges and 73 misdemeanor animal-cruelty counts that alleged she failed for provide for 72 horses and one cat at her Windrinker Farm at 4040 Mills Road in Sharpsburg. Officials seized 75 horses, miniature horses and donkeys from the farm. Four horses were euthanized and one died in transit, according to court records.

The Humane Society investigated conditions at Reinken's farm between Dec. 2 and 5, 2006. In a press conference after the hearing, Deputy State's Attorney Joseph Michael said the Humane Society has "intervened and visited" Reinken's farm since 1996.

In the December investigation, officials found an equine fetus wrapped in a plastic bag in a bucket on the front seat of a car in Reinken's driveway, Michael said in court Tuesday.

Veterinarians and Humane Society personnel identified many hazards, including trash, poor fencing and inadequate shelter on the farm, Michael said.

Fences were in such disrepair that stallions and mares were roaming together. Because the herd was too big for the 30-acre farm and the horses were not separated, those at the top of the equine hierarchy prevented smaller, weaker horses from eating and drinking, Michael said.

So many horses were infected with parasites that worms could be seen crawling around on the ground, Michael said.

One mare was found dead in a pasture with injuries consistent with a kick from another horse, Michael said. The horse lived with rib fractures and a partially collapsed lung for a week, Michael said.

Water available to the horses was dirty, and there wasn't enough water for the more than 70 horses on the farm at that time, he said.

Some people watching the proceedings wiped their eyes as Michael read the statement of facts.

Reinken's attorney, Edward Button, said Reinken loved animals and did not purposefully perform cruel acts.

"The defendant, in her mind, did everything possible she could do to maintain these horses," he said.

Parasite medication had not worked for the horses, Button said.

Reinken lost her job as a registered nurse as a result of the publicity surrounding her case and is the target of harassment, Button alleged.

Long called the plea agreement "appropriate resolution" and told Reinken that her efforts fell short of what the horses needed.

Reinken was barely audible when she answered the judge's questions and frequently looked to her attorney for guidance.

"Those horses are going to have great homes and an opportunity to have responsible owners," Fran Burns, of Monkton, Md., said. Burns followed Reinken's case and donated hay to the Humane Society for the care of the seized horses, she said.

Entering into a plea agreement was in the best interest of the horses and the Humane Society, Michael said. The Humane Society must find homes for the horses, including several pregnant mares.

The Humane Society has incurred about $100,000 in expenses in the case, Executive Director Paul Miller said. Reinken is not responsible for the costs associated with the care of the animals over the past several months, according to the plea agreement.

The horses are housed at five separate locations in Maryland, Miller said.

Miller called Reinken's situation a case of hoarding, and said it was one of the largest impoundments in Maryland's history.




To inquire about adopting one of the horses, contact Katherine Cooker, Humane Society spokeswoman, at 301-733-2060, ext. 237.

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