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W.Va. woman ordered to pay $11,071 for care given to horses, cows

March 24, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A Berkeley County woman Thursday was ordered to pay $11,071 in restitution for the care that was given to more than 50 horses and two cows that were found in September at her equine rescue operation with little to eat or drink.

Mary O'Brien, 37, was given two years to pay the restitution in a hearing held by Berkeley County Magistrate Joan V. Bragg.

If the money is not paid, O'Brien's driver's license could be suspended, and the county could pursue a civil action against her, Berkeley County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Saunders said.

Bragg reminded O'Brien on Thursday that she is prohibited from owning any animals for five years.

O'Brien pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of animal cruelty in October 2010 and was fined $1,000.

The animals were seized on Sept. 11 from Hidden Meadows Equine Rescue Inc., which O'Brien operated at 227 Edward Drive.

Donations of feed, medicine and supplies by area residents to help Berkeley County Animal Control officers rescue and find new homes for the animals substantially lowered the county's expenses, Saunders said.

Veterinarian services alone exceeded $20,000, Saunders said. An auction of items seized from the nonprofit rescue operation also generated a little more than $11,000, and Days Inn Farm Horse Rescue in Woodbine, Md., donated thousands more in care, investigating Berkeley County Sheriff's Deputy Scott Myers said Thursday.

Days Inn provided care to horses that were in the most critical condition. The organization reported on their website earlier this year that seven horses in their care were doing "remarkably well."

Of the more than 50 horses seized, three remain in the Berkeley County's custody, animal control officers said Thursday. Two of the horses that are available for adoption had been adopted by new owners, but were returned, the officers said.

O'Brien had been charged with 56 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty and served several days in jail, but the plea agreement reached to resolve her criminal prosecution triggered a rally outside the Berkeley County Judicial Center by people who were angered and disappointed with the outcome.

The Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney's Office has defended the handling of the criminal charges, saying it was consistent with how other animal cruelty cases were adjudicated.

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