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PA Woman Convicted of Cruelty to Two Horses

Oley, PA- District Justice Mess found Donna McGraff guilty on 2 counts of cruelty to animals under PA Crimes Code, Title 18, Section 5511(c) on August 27, 2002. On the first count involving 2 horses maintained in unsanitary conditions, Judge Mess fined McGraff $200.00 plus court costs. On the second count Judge Mess fined McGraff $700.00 and ordered forfeiture of the horse and full restitution in excess of $900.00 to the Large Animal Protection Society, LAPS. The guilty verdicts followed a 3-hour hearing on August 23, 2002 where 2 veterinarians, a LAPS Humane Society Police Officer and several other witnesses provided testimony.

LAPS received a complaint from McGraff’s landlord in June 2002 regarding a chestnut Arabian mare named Penny and a bay mare named Blossom that were being neglected. McGraff’s landlord had attempted since the horses’ arrival during the first week of May to get McGraff to improve the conditions to no avail. On the day after the horses’ arrival the landlord testified that there was, “No hay, grain or water buckets available”.

She continued to return to check on the horses and continued to leave notes indicating that the horses had no access to water. She also observed that the stalls did not appear to have been cleaned and there was no muck pile to indicate that the stalls had been cleaned since the horses’ arrival a month earlier. The witness also testified that she had never seen hay in front of the horses and that she usually fed and watered the horses when she checked on their condition.

Another witness for the Commonwealth with 20 years experience with horses testified that she had,

“Never seen horses in such poor condition.” She also stated that in speaking to McGraff, McGraff asked her to excuse the horses’ condition, that they had not wintered well. The witness found the comment unusual due to the fact that it was now early May and that the past winter was not that hard.

A LAPS Humane Society Police Officer seized the mare Penny after obtaining a search warrant on June 17, 2002 after McGraff failed to comply with the LAPS’ agent request to clean the stalls and schedule an appointment with a veterinarian.

Upon arrival at the LAPS facility, an equine veterinarian examined Penny. She determined Penny was in poor body condition, scoring between a 1 and a 2 on the Henneke Body Scoring Condition Chart, and that she was between 5 to 10% dehydrated. In addition Penny was suffering from a significant skin disease, was in need of dental care and needed to be dewormed. The vet noted that Penny appeared, “incredibly hungry, ravenous.”

The vet testified she had again seen Penny on August 19, 2002 and the mare’s body condition had improved to a 3.5 on the Henneke Body Scoring Condition Chart. Her teeth had been floated, her muscle tone was improved and her skin appeared to be healing.

The Defense

McGraff’s defense was that she had provided necessary food, water and veterinary care to the horses. The defense called Dr. Dennis Hoshall, DVM. Hoshall testified that McGraff had called him on May 3, 2002 due to the mare being very thin. He found the mare to be very, very thin and suffering from rainrot. He recommended her teeth be done and a change of feed to Equine Sr.

Under questioning by her defense attorney, McGraff’s own vet, Dr. Hoshall was shown pictures of Penny taken on June 17, 2002 the day she was taken into custody by LAPS. He was asked to compare her condition in the pictures, to the condition he observed in early May 2002 when he had seen Penny. He stated he did not see a whole lot of difference.

Under cross-examination he stated that the “horse appeared very thin”. He testified that no follow-up visit had been scheduled.

McGraff took the stand in her own defense and testified that she had purchased feed for the horses and had called a vet. She stated they worm the horses themselves every 3 to 4 months. As for water, McGraff testified that there was a 150’ hose in front of the barn at all times. She stated that she fed and watered the horses at 6AM and again at 6PM. As for the conditions of the stalls she stated that they give the stalls a “good clean once a week” and “every other day pick piles” and that the reason the horses’ stalls were dirty was because it was “more difficult to keep up with cleaning when horses in 24/7”.

McGraff stated she has 4 to 5 years experience with horses and the “old horse people taught her” at the facility that she kept Penny and Blossom at before moving to Oley. She stated that she, “continually gave Penny and Blossom water.”

McGraff testified that Penny had lost weight in a two-month period, but she waited to call a vet until she moved to a safe place.

McGraff has thirty days to appeal the conviction.


§ 5511. Cruelty to animals

(c) Cruelty to animals.--A person commits a summary offense if he wantonly or cruelly illtreats, overloads, beats, otherwise abuses any animal, or neglects any animal as to which he has a duty of care, whether belonging to himself or otherwise, or abandons any animal, or deprives any animal of necessary sustenance, drink, shelter or veterinary care, or access to clean and sanitary shelter which will protect the animal against inclement weather and preserve the animal's body heat and keep it dry. This subsection shall not apply to activity undertaken in normal agricultural operation.


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