First of the horses to be adopted finds a new home in Placerville

On June 6, in the Sonoma County Superior courtroom of Judge Jamie Thistlethwaite, Joseph Rafael, 65, pled no contest to three felony counts of animal cruelty. Rafael was the owner of the 12 horses — two stallions and 10 mares — that were seized from a Cloverdale property on March 22 of this year.

One horse was found dead on the property, and the other 12 were neglected and emaciated, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.

Final sentencing will take place in early August, however the plea deal Rafael reached with prosecutors includes 90 days in jail (with the possibility of work release), three years probation and a 10-year prohibition on animal ownership, plus all the other prohibitions that come with a felony conviction, such as a prohibition on firearms.

“Getting a felony conviction for an animal case is huge,” said Heather Bailey, president of the board of directors of CHANGE (Coins to Help Abandoned and Neglected Equines), a nonprofit that assists law enforcement agencies with equine cases and that has been caring for the horses since their removal in March. (Note: Bailey is also a reporter for this newspaper.)

“There was a time in this county (and there are still plenty of places in this country) where you would have never seen a felony conviction for animal abuse,” Bailey said. “Anytime we get a felony conviction in an animal cruelty case, we’re super excited about it. It’s not as common as it should be, and to get three felony counts is a huge win.”

“We like to say that a felony conviction is the gift that keeps on giving — it follows a person for their whole life, and the penalties that come with a felony conviction are the sort that would make other people think twice about violating the law by abusing an animal.”

As Rafael readies himself for a jail term, the 12 horses he neglected are being readied for new homes.

“Of the 12 horses that CHANGE took in, we have adopted our first one into his permanent loving home,” Bailey said. “Fred was the oldest of two stallions. All the way along, Fred’s been a super sweet, very stoic, very noble, very intelligent horse to deal with. A wonderful woman in Placerville adopted him. It’s a beautiful park-like setting, and she fell in love with him instantly. We are convinced he’s going to have a wonderful life.”

Bailey said the adoption process is moving forward for several of the other horses as well. “We have several adoptions pending, and we’re working through a pile of applications for some of the other horses. The goal is to get them all adopted into permanent loving homes.”

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