Stanislaus County rescue increases to 37 horses. No arrests in alleged neglect case

·6 min read
Oakdale Equine Rescue

Stanislaus County authorities said they are continuing to investigate an alleged case of animal neglect that resulted in the seizure of more than 30 horses in December.

Oakdale Equine Rescue said in a post it has taken in 37 horses since county Animal Control officers descended on a property near Riverbank on Dec. 20. The rescue operation found deplorable conditions and some emaciated horses at the Riverbank property, the county’s Animal Control director said.

People close to the investigation identified a breeder named Lisa Dunckley as the person who was boarding and breeding the horses on property she leased. They estimated more than 40 additional horses were at other parcels rented by Dunckley.

District Attorney Birgit Fladager said in an email last week the criminal investigation into what happened at the Riverbank property is large and complex. As of Monday, no charges had been filed against the woman who was keeping the horses.

Dunckley was reached by phone Monday afternoon. She said she couldn’t talk at the moment because she was moving a big piece of equipment. “I need to think about this,” she said, but did not call back later.

“To be fair, Miss Dunckley did not own that place,” said attorney Robin Bennett, who represents Dunckley in a civil lawsuit in Kentucky. “We agree it is a disaster and tragedy, but in terms of that legal matter I don’t represent her in California, so I can’t speak about that one way or the other.”

Owners from California and other states have claimed ownership of the rescued horses, many of which are considered valuable.

Oakdale Equine Rescue said it is feeding and caring for the horses for Stanislaus Animal Control because the county does not have the facilities.

A disagreement arose when three owners arranged to pick up their horses, a total of five, at the Oakdale horse rescue on Jan. 13. One of the owners said an argument ensued over payment of veterinary bills.

Kate Raboin, who raises horses in the Bay Area, said they were expected to pay $230 per horse for veterinary services they did not authorize. According to Raboin, the gate was locked, preventing the trailer with five horses from leaving.

Raboin, who was talking to officials on the phone during the dispute, said the county animal control director ultimately ordered officers to open the gate, allowing the five horses to return to their owners.

Raboin said she had an agreement with Dunckley to see if her mare could breed offspring after an 18-year career in upper level jumping events. The horse imported from Germany had a five-figure value and will be taken to a veterinary specialist to confirm if the horse is pregnant, she said.

Raboin said she and two other owners intend to file litigation claiming the condition of their horses worsened during their time at the Oakdale horse rescue from Dec. 20 to Jan. 13.

She said the horses lost weight, have mouth sores and have botfly eggs on their bodies and did not receive needed farrier and hoof care.

Annette Bedsworth, executive director of Stanislaus Animal Services Agency, would not discuss or confirm details of the dispute on Jan. 13, due to the ongoing criminal investigation focused on the alleged neglect at the Riverbank property.

Bedsworth also would not discuss the horse owner’s threat of litigation. “That is a civil issue,” she said. “I am not involved with that. I have had no conversation with them.”

Jeannine Etheridge, director of Oakdale Equine Rescue, said other owners have offered to pay for the veterinary care and pay for boarding their horses. “They are thankful they are here and getting fed and out of the situation they were in,” she said. “The five horses that were released, went out in better shape than they came in.”

Etheridge said many of the horses removed from the Riverbank property were stressed and could not return to normal eating right away. “Things have to be done slowly,” she said. “It takes more time to put weight on than it takes to lose weight.”

The rescue organization noted that the animal control agency makes the decision on releasing horses to their owners.

Since it was founded in 2010, Oakdale Equine Rescue has taken in more than 700 abused and neglected horses, working with animal control agencies in Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin counties.

“They are doing a really good job under the circumstances,” said Kelly Gage, a breeder and horse trainer in Kentucky. “Jeannine is doing a fantastic job. If I had a mare, I would want her to be with Jeannine.”

Equine lawsuit in Kentucky

Gage was owner of the severely emaciated stallion pictured on a gofundme account raising money for care of the rescued horses. When authorities seized the animals at the Riverbank property, the stallion named Alberich had to be humanely euthanized, due to starvation and neglect.

A few years ago in Kentucky, Gage entered a partnership with Dunckley to go through the difficult process of getting Alberich licensed for breeding valuable “warmblood” offspring. Warmblood horses are known for their athletic abilities and are often raised to compete in equestrian events.

After the relationship fell apart, Gage said that Dunckley took Alberich and a second horse Joyride when she was away for a day. Paperwork shows that Dunckley made arrangements in December 2019 to lease a 65-acre ranch on Escalon Bellota Road in San Joaquin County for a horse and foal facility.

Gage brought a lawsuit in Kentucky seeking $174,000 from Dunckley for unpaid fees, training costs and other expenses. She said Dunckley has not complied with a recent court order to disclose the location of Joyride.

Gage said she believes Dunckley has leases for six properties for breeding and boarding horses.

Bennett, the attorney representing Dunckley in that case, said the order to disclose the location of Joyride was entered in court last week. Bennett said she will file a motion to vacate the order and propose bringing the stallion to a neutral location to be examined by a veterinarian.

“It is a pretty contentious case in Kentucky,” Bennett said. “It is ongoing litigation. There has been a lot of accusations against Lisa that are not true. I think the facts will come out.”

Dunckley attempted to file for protection against creditors last year in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of California. In a March 3 petition for bankruptcy, Dunckley estimated liabilities of $100,000 to $500,000 and assets of zero to $50,000.

According to one document in the court file, Dunckley owed $16,000 in lease payments for the ranch property on Escalon Bellota Road north of Escalon.

On a form asking if the petitioner has property that’s a hazard to public health and safety, Dunckley checked the “yes” box and described the hazard as horses that “must be fed and cared for.”

“She is incredibly charismatic as a person,” Gage said. “She tends to talk a good game but she has tried to represent that she’s more than she is.”

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