ROGERS CITY - A Presque Isle County District Court judge heard more testimony Tuesday both for and against a Hawks woman accused of neglecting numerous animals on her farm, charges she and her attorney denies.
In the second part of a hearing for Christine Thompson, who is accused of a felony charge of animal neglect, six witnesses told the court about 33 horses seized from her farm, among other animals. Two Presque Isle County sheriff deputies said they saw no food or water for the horses, or five dogs and three pigs also seized from the farm. Thompson and others who knew the farm had testified on Nov. 27 that she adequately fed, watered and cared for the animals, according to Joel Bauer, her attorney.
Now, county Prosecutor Rick Steiger is arguing the animals seized from Thompson should be taken from her permanently. She also could face a maximum sentence of four years in jail, a $5,000 fine, 500 hours of community service or any combination of the three.
News photo by Jordan Travis
Christine Thompson, right, is accused of neglecting numerous animals on her farm in Hawks. Attorney Joel Bauer said she had a horse rescue operation and disputed claims from Presque Isle Sheriff’s deputies that she didn’t adequately feed, water and otherwise care for the horses, dogs and pigs seized from her farm.
The case against Thompson, 33, started after Presque Isle County Sheriff Department officers received a complaint in November about animals at large near Thompson's farm on Noffze Highway, Deputy Joseph Mulka said. When officers arrived, they found several horses had escaped from her farm. He could find no food with which to coax them back, something he'd done in the past when called to Thompson's property.
Throughout the hearing, Bauer said Thompson was running a horse rescue operation. She also would take the horses to a nearby farm owned by a friend. Her father, Dale Bowman, told the court he had helped to cut and bale hay for his daughter in August and dropped off more in October, hay that officers said they couldn't find in November. He and others who testified said this year was a bad one for hay due to dry conditions, driving the average price of a round bale of high-quality hay to $85.
Bowman also said he'd trimmed the feet on two or three of the horses in July, and his daughter had another farrier to do the same for other horses.
Deputy Dave Tomas, Presque Isle County animal control officer, told the court he or Mulka had been called to Thompson's property in the past for the same reason. Tomas also said he'd told Thompson the horses on her farm appeared to be underfed and threatened possible legal action for animal neglect.
"Every time I've talked to (Thompson), she's become compliant, then a little while down the road I'm hitting my head against the wall again," he said.
Neither Tomas or Mulka had checked the upper loft of a smaller building on the property to check for food, although Tomas said he believed the upper story and the stairs to the loft weren't structurally sound to hold any. They and others who looked could find none in the main barn besides wet and trampled hay.
While Mulka and other officers had no warrant to search Thompson's property on Nov. 7, he told the court the horses he saw showed signs of malnutrition. All three of the women who had boarded the horses on behalf of the sheriff's department testified the horses they had taken in ate considerably more compared to their own personal horses and were starting to put on weight. Among them was Deb Schleben, who said those she saw on the farm on Nov. 8-9 were lethargic and held their heads low. Others had issues with their skin or hooves, and the mares appeared to be bloated, either due to pregnancy or not eating enough proteins. Two were ultimately put down on the advice of two veterinarians.
Both Mulka and Michael Swanson, a Cheboygan County animal control officer, said five dogs found on Thompson's farm were not protected from the elements, including one found wet and shivering, tethered in an area thick with mud. Another was found tied up inside the farm's main barn, near an opossum carcass it had apparently chewed on, and three others were inside a cinderblock building littered with animal feces. Mulka told the court none had dry bedding, and he saw no food for them.
Mulka, Swanson and Tomas all said the dogs were friendly, and showed no signs or behavioral traits to suggest they'd been physically abused.
Bowman said he didn't believe any of the animals on his daughter's farm were neglected, including the dogs. He has owned horses for her entire life, and has never seen her mistreat or neglect an animal.
Not all of the seized horses were Thompson's. Her sister testified she owned some of them, and would like them back. Others were boarding their horses at the farm, Bauer said after Tuesday's proceedings had ended.
Thompson's forfeiture hearing and preliminary exam will continue Friday morning, Barton said.
Jordan Travis can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5688.