Forty-three year old Annie Elizabeth Stein has been charged on February 23, 2010, with animal cruelty after multiple horses in her care were found dead at the property she leases of Highway 10 in Newton, North Carolina. Three remaining horses in very poor condition were seized at the time of Stein's arrest and are being rehabilitated at other area farms.
A MySpace page for Annie Stein - last updated in May 2009 - shows her affliated with TouchPoint Equine Center, whose focus is stated to be "family oriented equine fun". Among the services listed for TouchPoint are "therapeutic riding for special needs children and adults, horse massage therapy, trail riding, lessons, boarding and sales, and birthday parties".
The Hickory Daily Record reports the horses located on Stein's property had no access to food, water or medical care. Michael Poovey, the caretaker at an adjacent property, first reported Stein on February 10 when he noticed signs of neglect, including horses stripping the bark off tree trunks for food. One horse observed lying in the field was subsequently found to be deceased by investigators who responded to Poovey's call the same day. Severely malnourished before death, he lay frozen in the field. Three weeks later, his body still remains in the field despite orders from the Sheriff's Department to bury him. Investigators have discovered the remains of an additional horse on the property covered by a tarp and skeletons of at least four others. Stein claims the two horses simply died of colic and denies any knowledge of the skeletons.
Stein has been charged with intentionally starving an animal - a misdemenor unless malcious intent is proven. She was charged based on the first horse found. There are no plans to charge her on the other remains. She was released on Tuesday, February 24 on $500 bond. Her next court date is March 1.
Police investigators indicated this was not the first time they have encountered Ms. Stein, citing warnings given to her after previous horse-related complaints over the last two years. Given police statements that Ms. Stein was being monitored as a result of the past complaints, it appears a re-evaluation in the process for handling animal neglect and cruelty cases in Catawba County is warranted.
Debra Huss is now caring for one of the surviving horses, an 11-year old gelding, said by examining veterinarians to be at least 50% underweight at only 450 pounds. Covered in rain rot and severely malnourished, the horse struggled to get to his feet for transport. Vets gave him a 50-50 chance of making it. Huss says he is improving thanks to what appears to be a strong will to survive. Introducing a malnourished horse to food and water is a slow and deliberate process, as too much of a good thing can overwhelm their system very rapidly. If Stein is found guilty of animal cruelty charges, Catawba County will reimburse the expenses for those individuals nursing the horses back to health. For Huss, while reimbursement will be welcomed, this isn't about the money. It's about helping an equine in need and preventing it from happening again.
Horse owners unable to care for their animals are urged to contact an equine rescue association for assistance. The United States Equine Rescue League's (USERL) Central Piedmont region services the greater Charlotte area, including Catawba County. In Union County, horse owners in need can contact USERL or the Carolinas Equine Rescue Association (CERA)