A California woman charged with starving 17 horses in Flathead County last year pleaded not guilty Thursday to one felony count of aggravated animal cruelty.
Cynthia Jean Hamilton, 68, entered the plea during a Feb. 3 arraignment hearing in Flathead County District Court before Judge Robert B. Allison.
Hamilton was booked in the Flathead County Detention Center on Dec. 30 and released the same day on her own recognizance.
According to court documents, Flathead County Animal Control wardens responded to an animal cruelty complaint involving multiple horses at a residence in the Columbia Falls area where they found five inadequately fed horses. Investigators say Hamilton is the owner of the horses.
During the investigation, Hamilton told law enforcement that she could not afford to feed the animals and directed deputies to 12 more of her horses, half of which were malnourished, records state.
Sheriff’s office detectives were granted a search warrant in September and seized all 17 horses and brought them to Flathead County Animal Control, where they remain in the care of Flathead County facilities.
According to charging documents, a veterinarian conducted physical exams on 10 horses upon seizure, concluding they all had parasites and below-average body scores, which required “a strong course of treatment.”
Hamilton is expected to go to trial in July 2022. If convicted, she could face a maximum sentence of two years in the Department of Corrections and/or a fine of $2,500.
The horses will remain in the county’s care until court proceedings are finished and authorities are requesting donations of grass hay or light alfalfa grass hay. Flathead County Sheriff Brian Heino estimates that each horse consumes half a ton to one ton of hay per month, the costs of which the county must cover.
To donate, contact county officials at [email protected].
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