Ranch Owner Charged With 70 Felony Counts of Animal Cruelty

Group of dedicated volunteers from The Grace Foundation credited with putting pressure on County officials sparking the investigation and arrest.

Ranch Called ‘Graveyard For Horses’ After Dozens Of Carcass

The Grace Foundation had waited for months to see justice served for the 25 horses they found dead on a animal cruelty investigation with Lassen County.

The case involved over 100 horses at the Whispering pines ranch in Susanville CA. The investigation had begun back in April 2011 when Grace was asked to assist with the cruelty investigation and take 20 emaciated horses from the whispering pines ranch. At the time of the visit, The Grace Foundation photographed and video taped over 25 dead horses and turned the evidence over to county officials.

In August 2011, Grace was asked to take the remaining 56 horses from the property. During the months between April and August Beth DeCaprio, Executive Director and Founder of The Grace Foundation had kept in contact with County officials handing over dozens of files and hundreds of photographs with evidence pertaining to the ongoing investigation. During this time DeCaprio was assured by County officials that the courts were just backed up and that charges would soon be filed.

Abused Horses
Photo Credit: The Grace Foundation

On October 15th, 2011 Grace received information indicating that the District Attorney did not feel he had adequate evidence to prosecute Mr Bennett for the crimes of animal cruelty. Devastated by the news that Mr Bennett may not be prosecuted for these crimes, Grace officials knew they had to do something.

On Thursday October 20th Grace began “a grass roots” campaign to bring awareness to the public about the plight of the 25 horses found dead and the 56 others that survived the abuse. “We knew we had to do something to insure that justice was served” said DeCaprio, “but without the resources we did not know what more we could do.” That is when Grace decided to use the greatest asset that their organization has…..their 3000 volunteers and supporters.

A letter was sent out to volunteers with a video http://youtu.be/yQ0jZbkVgdM that showed some of the images from the horse rescue and a beautiful story of three of the survivors and asked the volunteers to help in encouraging Lassen County officials to not forget about the innocent victims at Whispering pines.

Two hours after the email went out to volunteers DeCaprio received a call from Lassen County District Attorney Bob Burns. “Mr Burns indicated that he had asked the sheriffs department to begin a full investigation on the whispering pines facility and that he felt confident that charges would soon be filed,” said DeCaprio. The phones calls from volunteers also got the attention of Senator Ted Gaines. Senator Gaines staff spent over an hour on the phone with Grace leaders and assured The Grace Foundation that they were looking into the allegations against Mr Bennett.

On Thursday, one week after the email went out to volunteers, The Grace Foundation received news that the owner of the horses, Dwight A. Bennett was arrested and charged with 70 counts of animal cruelty and his bail was set at $252,000.

“This is not a time of celebration,” says DeCaprio. “At least 28 horses and 3 dogs lost their lives because the system did not work like it should have to protect them.” “But it is a great lesson for our youth and volunteers to remember that each and everyone of us has the ability to create change and right a wrong.” “Because of a committed and passionate group of individuals our most innocent had a voice,” adds DeCaprio.

That voice is now credited with helping to secure the safety of the 54 horses and 18 unborn foals residing at Grace. Up until Mr Bennett’s arrest, Bennett was seeking to regain ownership of these horses through a bankruptcy reorganization.

This is only the first step for The Grace foundation in seeing that justice is served. Grace is also asking Lassen County officials to investigate how Mr Bennett was able to become a foster parent of two foster children while dozens of horses lie dead in his front yard. Court documents show that these foster children were Mr Bennett’s only source of income.

Grace also hopes that the “Grass roots” campaign will also help with raising the estimated $150,000 Grace will need to care for these horses and 18 unborn foals over the next 12 months. Grace has started a “pay it forwardfor the Susanville 70” campaign, asking community members to donate just $7.00 to help with the care of the horses. “These are tough times for everyone,” says DeCaprio. “But like we witnessed with the phone calls if everyone does just a small part miracles can happen.”

Grace plans on foaling all the pregnant mares to insure that each mare and foal receives the medical care and treatment they will need. Grace hopes by the time these foals are born that the case against Mr Bennett will be completed and that these incredible horses will then be able to be placed in permanent loving homes.

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