By Matt Smith/Staff Writer
Justice of the Peace Precinct 1 Judge Ronny McBroom ruled Thursday in favor of the state’s request to transfer horses seized from a Johnson County property July 24 to the Humane Society of North Texas. McBroom also ordered Michael Greenslade, 49, of Cleburne, the former owner of the horses, to pay court and investigation costs as well as the Humane Society’s cost to house and care for the animals from the date of seizure through Thursday.
Cleburne police arrested Greenslade on charges of animal cruelty July 24 after discovering two dead and three emaciated horses on his property in the 1700 block of Texas 171. Hearings about those charges will be addressed in a separate trial and court.
Of the three horses seized the day of Greenslade’s arrest, Humane Society officials euthanized one, a male, two days later. Sandy Grambort, equine coordinator with the Humane Society, addressed the remaining two horses conditions during Thursday’s testimony.
“The black and white mare is sluggish with an average appetite, but she’s hanging on,” Grambort said. “Whether she’ll recover, I don’t know. The sorrel mare is doing much better, more energy and has a brighter outlook on life. She’s doing very well. The black and white eats very slowly. The red mare inhales her food.”
Grambort and Cleburne Animal Control Manager Jerry Dean both testified for the prosecution on the condition of the horses. Both said they believed neglect and lack of food led to such conditions.
Defense attorney Bill Conover said personal problems — the death of a friend and illness of his mother — may have caused Greenslade not to recognize a problem with his horses as soon as he should have. Conover argued that Greenslade had raised horses and livestock throughout his life and did feed his animals.
During closing arguments, Conover urged McBroom to look past the “media frenzy” stirred by the case to the facts.
“These are good people who have been made out to be monsters,” Conover said. “They are not monsters but good citizens without a mark against their names. They may not have been paying as close attention as they should have at the time, but these are not people who don’t care for their animals.”
Greenslade’s daughter, Melissa Greenslade, testified that each horse received a bucket of feed twice a day and produced receipts from October 2006 through July 2007 recording the purchase of feed every week or two weeks throughout the period. She testified that her father also picked up a bale of hay about once a week.
Conover introduced photographs taken by Melissa Greenslade throughout 2006 and early 2007 in which the horses appear to be healthy. Testimony grew heated, however, when Assistant County Attorney Jim Simpson presented Melissa Greenslade with pictures of the horses from 2007 that he said clearly showed the horses to be malnourished and sick.
Dennis Birchfield Jr., a family friend, also testified that the horses were fed regularly.
“I know for a fact they were, as much feed as they were going through,” Birchfield said. “They wouldn’t have been giving it to the birds.”
Birchfield said he believed sickness, not malnourishment, caused the horse’s problems.
“It was like I was out there one day and they looked fine, and the next day it was just, ‘Wow! What happened?’” Birchfield said. “It was like they instantly got sick.”
Simpson leaped up to object after Birchfield said he believed someone may have given rat poison to the horses.
“There’s been no evidence offered to substantiate anything like that,” Simpson said. “They’re just throwing something out there as maybe a possibility.”
Greenslade took the stand to state that he fed and watered his horses daily but admitted he may not have been paying as much attention to the animals as he should have from May to July because of a family illness and close friend’s death. Simpson disputed such reasoning.
“The statute doesn’t say cruelty to animals is OK if you have a good excuse,” Simpson said.
Greenslade said he fed and watered the horses in the mornings when it was usually still dark, as he was never sure when he’d get home from work at night.
“I may not have been as focused during that time as I was in the past,” Greenslade said. “I fed and watered them and walked off. In the past I might have noticed a problem sooner, but hindsight is 20/20.”
Greenslade echoed Birchfield’s testimony by saying the horses became sick suddenly around late June. Greenslade administered a worming treatment and was set to administer a two-week follow-up before calling a veterinarian when police arrested him. Greenslade and Melissa Greenslade testified that one of the female horses had been wormed earlier in the year.
Testimony differed with Dean estimating that one of the dead horses found on Greenslade’s property July 24 had been dead about two months while Greenslade, Melissa Greenslade and Birchfield testified the horse died July 12 or 13. Greenslade said mud from heavy rain prevented access to the horse. He said people from the rendering plant would not accept a horse that had been dead more than 24 hours and that vultures had already been at the horse. With the ground recently dry, Greenslade said he was planning to bury the horse at the time of his arrest.
“I feel I’m qualified to get the horses back to where they were, but I just want them to be OK,” Greenslade said when Conover asked what he wanted. “I told my wife and daughter it’s going to be a slow process. You can’t just dump food on them. Clearly they were fed every week and still losing weight. I’d like to get a vet because no one yet has told me why they were losing weight.”
Conover expressed similar sentiments during his closing.
“Something strange happened in July to those horses, and we don’t know what,” Conover said. “No necropsy has been performed on the deceased horses.”
Simpson dismissed such arguments during his closing arguments.
“Poison, worms, poison in the ground — all those things are just maybes,” Simpson said. “The one person qualified to present expert testimony [Grambort] and photos showed these animals were unreasonably deprived of food, medical care and shelter and that the only reasonable answer now is to turn them over to the Humane Society.”
Returning the horses to Greenslade would be a mistake, Simpson said.
“Evidence shows they did not have proper food, shelter or care for over six months,” Simpson said. “He didn’t recognize what bad shape the horses were in then, and he wouldn’t recognize it in the future.”
“Emotions sway thoughts,” McBroom said, ruling to turn the animals over to the Humane Society. “But we’re dealing with something helpless that depends on us. When we take responsibility to care for, feed and house animals, we need to do it in the proper way.”
Matt Smith can be reached at 817-645-2441, ext. 2339, or firstname.lastname@example.org.