One of the most taxing rescues yet undertaken by a Chichester animal shelter entered a new phase Thursday, when the former owner of three neglected stallions now recovering at Live and Let Live Farm was convicted on appeal of animal cruelty.
The verdict returned against Joanie Osgood, a 58-year-old Concord woman, brought closure to the nearly two years of legal proceedings since four stallions and a mare were seized from what police allege were inhumane conditions at Southwick Farm in Northfield.
The rescue’s director, Teresa Paradis, said the stallions lived stationary lives locked in the dim, filthy stalls of a dilapidated barn. She said she observed disgusting conditions at the barn more than a decade before police intervened.
On the day she first visited the barn in 2003, she said her lungs choked from the stench of urine and feces, and as her vision adjusted to the dim, she encountered a horse named Blue that left a “soul-wrenching” impression on her. She looked into the stallion’s blue-gray eyes and promised she’d get him out of there, “the most horrid place I’ve ever been,” she said.
“I just had this really, really heavy heart that someday I’ve gotta help this horse,” she said. “It was just horror. It was like being in a dungeon of filth.”
It was June 2014 when the horses were corralled on trailers in Northfield and brought to the Chichester rescue. For more than a year, they were kept under a massive white tent, acclimating to sunlight and existing as not much more than police evidence, unable to be trained or socialized during the investigation.
Last week, one of Osgood’s former stallions was mounted for the second time, making it the furthest progress of the rescues so far, Paradis said. One other Northfield horse, which came from a different owner, still isn’t ready to socialize with other horses, Paradis said.The trial
The 10 men and two women of the Merrimack County Superior Court jury spent more than six hours deliberating the case this week.
They told Osgood on Thursday that they’d found her guilty of three charges of animal cruelty for abandoning her stallions for three years at Southwick Farm. The case was an appeal after Osgood was found guilty in circuit court last year.
The 60-year-old Laconia man who owned the two other rescued horses, Harold Kelley, pleaded guilty last year.
Osgood argued that the horses didn’t belong to her during the time she was charged with neglect. She said she’d transferred them to the possession of the farm’s elderly owner, Bert Southwick, to make up for unpaid boarding fees totaling roughly $17,000.
“How is this woman, getting on in years, after the tragic death of her son, after the tragic death of her horse, going to be able to pay that bill?” her public defender, Tim Landry, asked of the jury. “Is it really that far-fetched to think ownership of those horses was transferred to Bert, and then Joanie left that farm in 2011 and never came back until she heard about what was going on in that barn?”
The state argued, however, that Osgood had represented herself as the owner of the horses multiple times since 2011, in authorizing veterinary procedures, in accepting a search warrant and in her own words.
“She didn’t give up these horses to Bert Southwick, neither by words or actions. She gave up on them,” said the prosecutor, Cristina Brooks.
Brooks said it wasn’t believable that Osgood relinquished responsibility for the horses and didn’t know the condition of the barn. She said Osgood admitted in an interview with a detective from the Northfield police in 2014 “that she knew things had been bad for years” at the farm and that Osgood didn’t deny ownership of the horses until she was pressed by police on how she could allow for her horses to reside in those conditions.
“They were neglected by the one person that should have been their advocate,” Brooks said.
While the stallions stood in their own feces and urine in the barn, there were more than 50 acres of pasture outside where the other horses grazed during the day in the warmer months. Because the stallions were never gelded, they weren’t allowed outside for fear that they’d attack one another to assert dominance.
Osgood will be sentenced next month. The three misdemeanors she committed each carry a penalty of up to a year in jail, plus tens of thousands of dollars in restitution to Live and Let Live Farm for the time the rescue cared for her horses.False start
Paradis said she was alerted by representatives of the state’s department of agriculture that she might be asked to shelter the Northfield horses at least three times in the six years preceding the rescue, but it never came true until 2014.
When the stallions stepped hoof into Live and Let Live Farm, they were given new names to go with their new lives. The date of their rescue being June 6, 2014 – the 70th anniversary of the Allied Invasion of Normandy – they were dubbed after the events and people of D-Day.
Blaze became Churchill, Little D became Patton and Blue – the blue-eyed stallion that stole Paradis’s heart more than a decade earlier – became Neptune.
At first, they stayed in the rescue’s quarantine, each with his own small pen of “stallion panels,” a sturdier, 6-foot-tall fencing that the rescue outfitted itself with to accommodate them.
Only after the stallions were surrendered to the rescue – following Osgood’s first trial – was Paradis able to geld them and begin training them to socialize with other horses. After years of confinement, they’re each now free to roam in a paddock with the company of other horses, which she said is important to the psychology of the herd animals.
Neptune lives alongside another rescue, Niko, who was found malnourished running down the road in Weare after he chewed his way out of a wooden stall, Paradis said. The two of them could be found napping in the sun on Wednesday, the second day of the two-day trial.
Paradis said the Northfield rescues arrived with internal and external parasites, in need of exercise, dental and hoof care and a change of diet. The cost of their boarding and medical bills over the course of nearly two years approaches $70,000, she said, making theirs the most expensive rescue the 19-year-old shelter has ever made.
Paradis said she cried uncontrollably when she learned of the guilty verdict. Although the horses were safe on her farm, she said it didn’t feel real until the legal aspect was settled.
On Thursday, she said, the promise she to Blue in 2003 came true for Neptune in 2016.
“That was one thing I didn’t want to go to my grave and not have taken care of before I was gone,” she said.
(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @NickBReid.)