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Horses Found Dead, Emaciated At Sonoma County Ranch

CLOVERDALE (KPIX) -- A Sonoma County man is facing charges of animal abuse after one of his horses was found dead and a dozen others, severely malnourished.

Gabby was one of the ten malnourished mares and two stallions pulled out of the Cloverdale situation because her owner neglected to feed her, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department.

Ethel, the horse in the stall next to Gabby, was in even worse shape. You can see her ribs.

"This horse could easily have 3 to 400 more pounds put on her," says Heather Bailey who runs the non-profit organization CHANGE. "It feels like a ladder in there and if you feel along her spine, you just feel big dips."

The sheriff's department has arrested the animals' owner, 65-year-old Joseph Rafael of Cloverdale. He is facing 13 felony animal abuse charges because one of his horses died and the other 12 were described as underfed and emaciated.

The sheriff's department says the horses were found in knee deep mud on his property in Cloverdale. The horse that died had bones showing through its skin.

According to a Sheriff's department spokesperson, a neighbor had been sneaking on to the property here, feeding the horses because she had seen the emaciated condition they were in. But recently, she found one horse had died. That's when she decided to alert the authorities.

Rafael was not on the property when KPIX tried to talk to him. He told investigators he had been giving the horses food, but deputies say they found hay in the feeding area, and for some unknown reason, it just had not been given to the horses.

For now, Heather Bailey is housing two of the horses. Other volunteers have taken the others and are nursing them back to health and providing them foster care, which they hope will lead to adoption.

"It breaks your heart. You don't want any animals to go through what these guys have gone through," says Bailey. "It makes you angry. But for me, I channel that into doing something. Into helping animals and taking action."

The group CHANGE that is caring for the horses relies on donations. Bailey says she is hoping her neighbors will pitch in to help feed them and get them healthy again.

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