PORT CLINTON - The Oak Harbor woman accused of mistreating 42 Arabian horses by allegedly keeping them in emaciated condition on her farm appeared in court for the first time yesterday.
Robin Vess, 54, testified in Ottawa County Municipal Court to support her request that Judge Frederick Hany throw out the evidence in her animal-cruelty case because she claims the horses were seized without a warrant. Her lawyer, Mark Davis, argued the seizure was "unlawful" and said his client's constitutional rights had been violated.
Representatives from the Ottawa County Humane Society took at least 36 horses from Ms. Vess' farm on Jan. 29 after receiving two calls from people expressing urgent concern for the horses' health.
Four horses were put down at the farm because they had fallen and were too weak to get up, witnesses said. Another horse was dead when humane society officers arrived.
Ms. Vess yesterday denied accounts that she'd given permission for the humane society to enter her farm. She said she had told humane society officer Nancy Silva that she was busy and to call back another day.
Speaking softly but raising her voice in occasional agitation, Ms. Vess said her horses had been well cared for and had "ample feed."
"They did have feed and they did have water," Ms. Vess told the court, saying that some of the horses were sick but not malnourished. "They were fed twice a day."
She also recalled the removal of the horses as "a traumatic day."
Ms. Vess' testimony contrasted with that of Ms. Silva, who was the first to arrive at the farm on Jan. 29, and veterinarian Irene Lavigne, who attended the sick horses at Ms. Silva's request and euthanized some.
Ms. Silva said she had called Ms. Vess twice before arriving at the farm. She said Ms. Vess had given her permission to enter the property and had asked her for help with a sick horse.
She described conditions on the farm as "atrocious" and said the horses were "very skinny and bony."
The veterinarian and Ms. Silva also described dirty stalls and a lack of food and water for the horses.
Dr. Lavigne said she saw evidence that the horses had chewed away the wood of their stalls - a sign of stress or hunger - and said some had untreated lacerations and cuts on their bodies.
"They needed help, all of them," Ms. Silva said, defending her decision to immediately remove the horses from the farm.
"I was afraid that more of them would die or more would [fall] down and suffer," she said.
Mr. Davis questioned Ms. Silva's record as a humane society officer and suggested that she had acted unlawfully in the past by failing to get warrants for other animal seizures.
"I know the parameters of what I'm supposed to do and what I'm not supposed to do," Ms. Silva replied.
Mr. Davis also challenged testimony that removal of the horses was urgent, arguing that the animals may have been sick for reasons other than malnourishment.
"There's nothing that shows these animals were in an emergency state," Mr. Davis said in closing arguments.
Assistant Prosecutor Matthew Schuh defended the humane society's actions.
"The humane society did nothing wrong here. They acted swiftly, compassionately, and prudently," Mr. Schuh said.
"Who knows what would have happened if [Ms. Silva] hadn't taken the horses that night?"
After the hearing, Mr. Davis said he had "mixed feelings" about the proceedings.
"By its very nature, it's a limited hearing and we weren't able to tell the full story," Mr. Davis said. "We look forward if it goes to trial to be able to put forward a lot of evidence that wasn't heard today."
Judge Hany said he would rule on the motion to suppress evidence "in due time."
Contact Claudia Boyd-