A Laguna Hills doctor has been convicted on animal cruelty and neglect charges for starving her horses, officials said Monday.
Dr. Dorothy Calabrese, who lives in the Rancho Carrillo community in Riverside County, will be sentenced May 19 and could receive up to a year in jail, Riverside County prosecutor John Molloy said.
Calabrese, who owns four horses and two llamas, pleaded not guilty to the charges but was convicted by a jury. Her defense attorney, Michael J. Quigley, alleged that it was the responsibility of Calabrese's 18-year-old son to care for the horses. The defense attorney said the son, who is under psychiatric care, fell behind in his horse-feeding duties after switching medications.
"Bad things sometimes happen, but there was no bad intent here," Calabrese said Monday. "It was an oversight and we're sorry and we're trying to make amends. We want our animals back."
Calabrese said she didn't notice the animals' situation sooner because all her attention has been focused on another son, a 12-year-old, who is battling a terminal illness.
"My son is dying" from cystic fibrosis, said Calabrese, a single mother of four.
In December, animal control responded to neighbors' reports that the animals were being neglected and underfed, Molloy said. Two of the horses were "very emaciated," he said.
All six animals were taken away for treatment, but the llamas and a pony were eventually returned. A judge will decide at sentencing if Calabrese can retain ownership of the three remaining horses.
Some of the neighbors who watched the horses' condition deteriorate over the past year would jump over the fence to feed the animals, Molloy said. There was plenty of food nearby.
"The food was so close that the horses could see it and they could smell it," he said. "They just couldn't get to it."