The Board of Supervisors called Tuesday for an investigation into whether county animal-control officers saw indications of neglect three years ago on the part of a Saugus rancher charged last week with 90 counts of animal cruelty.
Supervisor Mike Antonovich requested the investigation after receiving complaints from constituents about treatment of 43 horses owned by rancher Gerald Ingle. Antonovich said he has seen photographs of the horses and is "concerned that the Department of Animal Care and Control did not move much sooner and more aggressively to protect these animals."
Brian Berger, director of the animal-control department, acknowledged in an interview after the board's 4-0 vote that some staff members were aware of problems for years at the remote Saugus ranch.
"It appears my staff might have been a bit too gentle in this situation," Berger said. "I need to know how come my staff looked the other way."
He said the animal-control officers issued an order a few years ago directing Ingle to care for the animals properly. "There was a failure in the system," said Berger, who noted that the county handles thousands of animal cases a year.
Results of Inspection
When animal-control officers visited Ingle's Dry Canyon ranch last week they found the pens with maggot-infested manure a foot deep and the 43 horses walking on hoofs so badly overgrown that they resembled curled Dutch shoes.
After the inspection, a deputy district attorney charged Ingle, 67, with cruelty to animals and failure to care for and exercise his animals. It represents the largest horse-abuse case filed against an individual in Los Angeles County in nearly a decade.
Ingle said he started breeding horses five years ago as a retirement investment, but he became overwhelmed by the venture and had been trying to sell the ranch for eight months.
The rancher, however, denied abusing his animals. He said they are in "great condition."
Watered and Fed
County officials agreed that the horses have received enough water and feed and were in "reasonable physical condition."
Donnell Kennedy is one of the Saugus residents who said she has been calling the animal-control office in Castaic since 1983 to complain about Ingle's treatment of his horses. She said animal-control officers visited sporadically, but she alleged that Ingle did not heed their warnings.
"They told him to comply but they never followed through," Kennedy said.
Two farriers and a county veterinarian have been caring for the horses since last week, and the Fire Department has been cleaning out the corrals.