Provo • A mother and son charged with cruelty to animals after more than 100 malnourished horses were found on their Utah County property were ordered Tuesday to stand trial.
Trudy Childs, 59, and her son Rory Childs, 31, were each charged with one count of class B misdemeanor cruelty to an animal and 19 counts of cruelty to an animal, a class A misdemeanor, after Utah County Sheriff’s deputies found about 130 horses that were malnourished, sick, dying or dead.
Fourth District Judge Fred Howard ordered the pair to stand trial on all charges Tuesday after he heard testimony from Utah County Sheriff’s Deputy Sean Peterson and saw photos of the horses found in the Childses’ four pastures.
Peterson went through a number of photos, some of them showing extremely thin horses, others suffering oozing, open wounds. One photo showed a bandage over a horse’s eye that hadn’t been changed since the animal was injured by a tree branch two months prior, Peterson said. No clean water source or visible feed were located on the various properties, Peterson said.
"This is an indication that the horses were hungry," Peterson said, describing a photo of a stripped tree at one of the pastures. "These trees were completely stripped of the bark. This is what they would try to supplement their diet with."
Peterson testified that he contacted the rancher who sold Rory Childs hay, and calculated that based on the amount of hay sold to the man, he would only be able to feed the large number of horses seven pounds of hay per animal per day. A horse should be fed between 20 to 25 pounds of hay per day, Peterson said.
Rory Childs told investigators that he purchased hay from other sources, Peterson said, though he could not provide any receipts or documentation.
"They were definitely neglected," Peterson said.
Peterson noted that between six and eight horse carcasses were found on the Childses’ properties.
Defense attorney Richard Gale argued in court Tuesday that the charges should be class C misdemeanors because, while there was evidence that the Childses’ may have been reckless, their behavior was not intentional.
"I don’t think there was any evidence that this was intentional," he said.
About half of the Childses’ horses were auctioned off in May, after county officials filed a lien of more than $15,000 against the Childses for the care and feeding of the horses. The Childses were notified of the lien, prosecutors said in court papers, but failed to make payments.
According to court documents, Utah County authorities were tipped off to the malnourished horses in February 2013 after a neighbor noticed a black horse that could not stand and looked extremely underweight. The neighbor also noticed trees in the pasture that had been debarked by the hungry horses, according to a police statement.
"This is a case where this man, Rory Childs, has no business ever owning a horse," the neighbor wrote in statement to police. "... I have owned horses all my life. I have never seen such inhumane treatment of an animal."
Once deputies began investigating, they found that all of the horses showed signs of lethargy and lack of adequate food and care, according to prosecutors.
According to an autopsy, two of the dead horses were poisoned by eating moldy corn.
Two veterinarians who evaluated the horses concluded they were severely malnourished, one noting that no sign of adequate food or water could be found in the pasture where the majority of the horses were kept. According to a report filed in 4th District Court, one veterinarian noted that several of the horses had lice infestations and ticks spread "profusely" over their bodies.
The Childses will be back in court on July 16 for an arraignment.
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