Authorities file charges against Zuni couple

Published 7:32 am Friday, February 13, 2009

ZUNI—Animal cruelty charges have been filed against the owners of a farm near Zuni after authorities discovered many horses and dogs in poor health there last month.

Jeffrey and Diana Hansford — who own the Pine Meadows Quarter Horse Farm on Sand Pit Road — each faces 20 misdemeanor charges of cruelty to animals, according to Isle of Wight County Commonwealth’s Attorney Wayne Farmer.

Authorities removed 23 horses and 70 golden retrievers from the farm on Jan. 21 after receiving calls from concerned neighbors that the animals were living in squalid conditions and a dead horse was seen on the property. Animal rescue groups from Richmond to Hampton Roads have taken in the horses and golden retrievers and are trying to bring them back to health.

Farmer said 14 of the animal cruelty charges were for the condition of the horses, and six were for the dogs. The charges were filed in Isle of Wight General District Court. The Hansfords were served Wednesday, have since been released on bond, and will be arraigned on Feb. 19, Farmer said.

Each charge of animal cruelty is a Class 1 misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.

Farmer said, “there is a statute that would allow for a more serious charge if (their) conduct was malicious. They are not charged with that because I believe the evidence suggests that it is more of the variety of failing to provide the necessary care, medical treatment, food and water. This certainly falls more into that category, rather than a physical abuse type of situation.”

“We want to make sure that this doesn’t happen again, and that (the Hansfords) compensate the county and private groups who are trying to rehabilitate the animals,” Farmer said. “Most of them suffered from malnourishment, and some also suffered from some fairly serious medical conditions, which had not been treated.”

Isle of Wight County Sheriff C.W. “Charlie” Phelps said two horses were deceased when investigators first arrived at the farm, and another two had been euthanized. Authorities left nine horses and 15 dogs — 11 adults and four puppies — behind for observation, Phelps said.

“They are being monitored by the county’s animal control office, and are being checked on a daily basis,” Phelps said. “We will continue to do so until the vet gives us a clearance on them.”