Dan McKenzie with a horse named Buddy (not the horse involved in the case). Photo from Bonniedale Farm's website.
By Kim Kalunian, WPRO News
“You have one skinny horse and all hell breaks loose,” said Dan McKenzie on his weekly AM 790 talk show.
McKenzie was referring to Cisco, a 7-year-old, male, chestnut horse that resided at his animal sanctuary, Bonniedale Farm in North Scituate, until the RISPCA removed it from his care. The horse, said RISPCA, was dangerously underweight and malnourished.
McKenzie said a woman brought Cisco to Bonniedale after a domestic violence incident rendered her unable to care for the animal. He said he did her a “favor” by taking the horse, which he said was under her care while at Bonniedale; McKenzie said he was simply providing a place for the horse to stay.
But The Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RISPCA) disagrees.
“Mr. McKenzie took possession of the horse,” said RISPCA Director, Dr. E.J. Finocchio. He said they have “definite proof” that McKenzie was supposed to be the horse’s caretaker while the animal was at the Farm.
Finocchio said they have photos of the horse before it went to Bonniedale in May, and when they were called to Bonniedale in November the horse’s condition had deteriorated significantly.
Finocchio said it was people who rent space at Bonniedale Farm that called RISPCA to report McKenzie. They told RISPCA that McKenzie had been feeding the animal dog food.
“He wasn’t giving the horse enough sustenance,” said Finocchio.
McKenzie denies that. He said although he realized the horse was thin, the horse was unable to gain weight. He said he thinks the horse might have had worms.
Finocchio is a horse veterinarian by trade, and examined the animal himself. He found nothing medically wrong with horse and removed it from Bonniedale in November.
Under new care, the horse began to gain weight – 225 pounds over the course of four months – “simply by providing it with the normal amount of proper food,” said Finocchio.
Once they realized the horse could gain weight with the proper nutrition, RISPCA determined they had enough evidence to charge McKenzie with one count of animal cruelty for neglecting to provide the animal with proper food.
McKenzie was arrested Friday and will be arraigned March 13 in Kent County District Court. McKenzie said he will plead “not guilty.”
“I try to help out and I got screwed,” McKenzie told WPRO Tuesday. He said he loved animals and would never leave an animal without proper food or shelter. He blames the horse’s previous owner.
“She turned on me like a snake. She’s not going to take responsibility,” he said.
A woman identifying herself as the horse’s previous owner, Monique, called in to McKenzie’s show Sunday and said McKenzie’s claims were “a bunch of crap.”
“You’re mad that you got caught,” said the woman identified as Monique.
McKenzie denied Monique’s claims.
“All my animals up here are nice and healthy,” McKenzie told WPRO Tuesday.
McKenzie has run the Bonniedale Farm Animal Sanctuary for ten years. He currently has about 30 animals including goats, pigs, llamas, ducks and another horse.
In 2009, Bonniedale was foreclosed on and Finocchio said the RISPCA gained possession of and found homes for about 130 animals that were on the farm at the time. McKenzie said the foreclosure was a result of banks “stealing people’s property.”
Earlier this year, McKenzie was issued a citation by the town of Scituate for the improper disposal of a dead sheep. McKenzie said he “buried it in the snow, but the snow melted.”
“I took care of it as best as I could,” he said. “You can’t dig a hole when there’s a foot of frost.”
McKenzie said he had put the dead animal aside and was going to bury “what was left” when spring arrived. He said coyotes and fishercats had cleaned off most of the bones.
Finocchio said the conditions at Bonniedale are not what RISPCA considers acceptable, but there are currently no laws that mandate the standards for animals to live in.
“We don’t want animals to live in the Taj Mahal but we also don’t want them to live in the streets of Calcutta,” said Finocchio.
Despite the claims against him, McKenzie said he is an animal lover and would never do anything to put an animal in harm’s way.
The penalty for animal cruelty in Rhode Island is a fine ranging from $50 to $500 and/or imprisonment of up to 11 months.