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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary

3 Charged With Cruelty in Numbing of Horse's Tail

March 17, 2000

LOS ANGELES — The city attorney's office charged three people with animal cruelty Thursday for allegedly injecting a show horse with alcohol to prevent it from swishing its tail at exhibitions.

The illegal practice, known as "tail-blocking," numbs the animal's tail to make it appear better-behaved before judges, thus earning the horse extra points, authorities said.

Michael Lee Dunn, 30, and Frederick Scott Johnson, 40, both of Burbank, and veterinarian James Johnson Rushing, 52, of Jackson, Wyo., were charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty and mutilation and administering of a drug to an exhibition animal. Rushing allegedly performed the procedure.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals-Los Angeles said it received an anonymous tip last September about the chestnut quarter horse, which was stabled at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center near Burbank. Officers found the horse had suffered an adverse reaction to the alleged injection.

"The horse was in bad shape," said Madeline Bernstein, SPCA Los Angeles president. "The tail was infected, the horse had fever, the horse was down and lethargic."

Johnson allegedly owned the show horse, valued at $25,000, and Dunn allegedly trained the animal, prosecutors say. The horse, named Michelle, suffered permanent damage to its tail, Bernstein said.

If convicted on all charges, the men may each face up to a year in prison and a $20,000 fine. They will be arraigned April 4 in Superior Court in Van Nuys, said a city attorney's spokesman.

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