Brunzell/Dual Peppy Summary and Sentencing

Dual Peppy, in his prime.

Dual Peppy, in his prime.

The story began in Black Forest, just east of Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Friday afternoon, September 19, 2014. A neighbor followed her dog into a close-by barn to find ten seriously thin horses and four llamas. She saw deplorable conditions with manure everywhere, several feet deep in places, and tarps on the ground covering the skeletons of more horses. She immediately called the Sheriff’s office as well as the press. Deputies gave the owner, Ms. Sherry Brunzell an order to comply stating that the horses needed foot care and to clean up the barn.

The story aired on the news and a photo of one of the horses was almost immediately recognized as Dual Peppy, a well-known Quarter Horse stallion. The Sheriff’s office received countless emails and phone calls as the story went viral over that weekend. Law enforcement returned to the barn three days later with a search warrant and a veterinarian. They seized the ten surviving horses, four lamas, and documented skeletal remains of a total of fourteen horses, over half the herd.

Seven months later, on May 26th, the case came to trial. Brunzell was charged with fourteen counts (ten horses, four llamas) of Cruelty to Animals, a Class 1 misdemeanor. Inconclusive DNA on the skeletal remains meant that she could not be charged for the deaths of the other horses. The trial lasted four days with the attorneys on both sides presenting their case before Judge Stephen J. Sletta. (See reports from trial here.) The prosecution laid out their case with logical precision, calling officers from the Human Society, Sheriff’s office, and several veterinarians involved in the case. Before and after photos were shown of each of the horses, along with records of their initial evaluations and prescribed care since arriving at Harmony Equine, a facility used by the county for this purpose. Mrs. Brunzell testified last, saying she had horses all her life; that she disagreed with common knowledge about issues of feeding, dental care, and hoof trimming. She felt she knew more than the experts and she showed no remorse.

The jury found Brunzell guilty on eight charges of Animal Cruelty. She was found not guilty on two of the horses whose body score was slightly higher and the four llamas.

On August 13th, we met again for the sentencing portion of the trial. Judge Sletta called us to order and this time the courtroom was filled with spectators from both sides. Testimony began with character witnesses for Mrs. Brunzell. Three men spoke briefly, and then Chief Deputy District Attorney Shannon Gerhart and Defense attorney Andrew Bryant each made statements.

There were high moments, as both the prosecution and Judge Sletta mentioned the horses who survived that horrible barn in Black Forest and those who did not. Brunzell, who never acknowledged any responsibility or remorse, through her attorney, continued to make excuses and minimize the condition of the horses.

In pronouncing sentence, Sletta said that there were no excuses for this level of neglect because Brunzell was not a novice horse owner.  He gave the full sentence possible for eight counts of Cruelty to Animals. Sletta added that if he had the power to give more, he would have.

The sentence includes 60 days in jail, with 5 years’ probation where she cannot own, possess, control, or care for horses or livestock. She must attend sixteen counseling sessions and pay court costs. Finally, she must relinquish all registration papers so that the Sheriff’s office, in cooperation with the Humane Society can sell the horses, with the proceeds to go toward restitution.

And just as there was a communal sigh, the defense made a motion for an appeal. The judge set a date to hear that motion on September 17th, two days shy of the anniversary of their discovery. The horses will continue where they are for another month.

Horse Advocates is happy with the sentence. In light of the current laws, it was the best we could hope for. We were present for every moment of this trial and there is so much to be gained from watching the legal process.

For most of us, what we know about court we’ve seen on TV. Those attorneys are actors, reading from a script. In the real world there’s less theater and more monotony. Law books are checked and the case isn’t resolved in sixty minutes, minus the commercials. At the same time, we at Horse Advocates are convinced that attending court makes a difference. Being there for the horses sends a message that the public is concerned. And being a witness to the trial gives information that we wouldn’t know otherwise, and when we know more, we can do better. The public response on this case had an impact for the better; a huge thank you to everyone who participated on any level–holding the belief that these horses matter.

The final thought must be for the horses. Originally this hand-picked herd cost an estimated 1.5 million dollars. Each horse, the mares as well, were impeccably bred. Dual Peppy was performance trained and well-respected. We are so relieved that these horses were seized by the Sheriff’s office and receiving the care they needed so badly during the months that this case was in litigation. Horses have shorter lives than humans and this herd has suffered enough.

When we last heard, Dual Peppy, a senior at 22, was in guarded condition. As he gained weight, his lameness got a bit worse. He is having the finest care possible with great vet attention, but a guarded condition is not good. The other nine horses, some of whom are quite young, will wait a while longer to learn their fate from us humans. Horse Advocates hopes for the day to come soon when each horse finds a human partner who gives top priority to their care, as well as their overall well-being and happiness. We hope they find the safety and security of a true home.

Horse Advocates of Colorado.

The Sherri Brunzell/Dual Peppy Trial Begins May 26th.

DualPeppyAs I write this, we’re just over a week away from the beginning of the Sherri Brunzell/Dual Peppy trial. Remember the first news report on that Friday afternoon, September 19, 2014? A neighbor had followed her dog into the barn to find ten acutely neglected horses and another fourteen dead on the ground, in various states of decomposition. Just to be clear: more than half the herd dead, sharing the same barn as the survivors.

Then the best/worst thing happened: one of the horses was recognized from photos on the news. He was the famous stallion, Dual Peppy. The local community was outraged already, but this drew the attention of horse owners around the world. The Sheriff’s Office told the public that the situation was in hand, although no vet had been called in. The community outrage grew; untold numbers of calls and emails were sent to the Sheriff’s Office from all over the country and parts of Europe. Three days later, a vet was called in and the survivors were transported to a safe place.

I think the second reason this case inspired so many emails and calls from the public was because the scene in the barn was easy to visualize. Reports said the manure was several feet deep, skeletons were left where they fell, some partially covered by tarps. The majority of the herd was dead–some reportedly as young as 3 years old. Photos were few, but the descriptions were so ugly that people outside the horse world were inflamed as well.

These victims were well-bred Quarter Horses with an estimated worth of over 1.5 million dollars, which is not to say their lives were worth more than a backyard horse, but it was more shocking and drew extra press attention. It’s a case that could help swing public opinion on horse welfare and eventually have an impact on horses with names like Blackie and Molly; horses with no famous relatives.

When the first explanations from the owner were made public, every horse owner in the county knew the excuses were as lame as these horses who needed emergency farrier care. Brunzell’s husband admitted “she doesn’t have a regular veterinarian due to expense and ‘unsatisfactory results.'” And “She felt it would be better to spend the money on feed for the horses than on veterinary bills.”

I remind you of the details of this horrific case because eight months have passed, including one postponed trial date. Outrage dims as time passes–after all, there are new atrocities every day. But these horses still remain in Limbo–they are still waiting.

Until the case is decided, the horses (and four llamas) are under the control and care of the Colorado Humane Society. They have gained weight, had veterinary care, and overdue farrier work. They have been safe from their owner who denied them the bare essentials required and left them hidden in a barn.

Our District Attorney feels the county has a good case, but if Ms. Brunzell wins, these horses will be returned to her.

Please stay tuned to the Horse Advocates Facebook page for locations, times, and updates. We will be in court from start to finish–please join us there if you can. A full courtroom sends an important message. Watch the news reports on television and post comments or call the station. Write a letter to the newspaper articulating your thoughts on this case. Talk about this story with your friends and share posts online.

Most of all, remember the 14 good horses who did not make it out of that dreadful barn. Remember those lost, as well as those who survived; remember this crime like it happened yesterday. Join Horse Advocates of Colorado in asking for a conviction with sentencing to the full extent of the law. Speak out and be heard.