Woman with dead horses charged with animal cruelty

A North Whidbey woman accused of allowing two horses to starve to death and neglecting many other animals is facing felony and gross misdemeanor charges for animal cruelty, according to court documents.

Court documents describe how deputies responding to a report of two dead horses on Dec. 24 found the equine bodies next to a tree stripped of bark as well as 11 other emaciated horses and two pigs living in cold, muddy pastures with no food. They also found that the property owner, identified as 52-year-old old Kristi L. Finch, was breeding large numbers of Australian shepherds and ragdoll cats, many of which were also in poor health, the reports state.

Prosecutors charged Finch in Island County Superior Court Jan. 6 with five counts of animal cruelty in the first degree and two counts of animal cruelty in the second degree. The felony counts relate to five horses, which allegedly either died or suffered “substantial and unjustifiable pain” from starvation, while the gross misdemeanor charges are for a dog and a cat that allegedly suffered due to neglect.

Finch was summoned to appear in court for arraignment on Jan. 30. If convicted of the charges against her, Finch could face up to 12 months in jail under the standard sentencing range.

Finch could not be reached for comment. She had previously been charged with animal cruelty in Skagit County related to a puppy mill, but pleaded guilty to lesser offenses, court documents indicate.

Finch told investigators that she couldn’t afford to feed the horses because nobody was buying the dogs or cats, and she admitted that the horses likely starved to death, a deputy’s report states. She said she had been trying to give the horses and pigs away, but nobody wanted them. Yet after being contacted by the deputies, she made calls and was quickly able to find homes for some of the horses, the report states.

A man told deputies that he delivered 350 bales of hay to Finch in the summer, but she never paid for them. A neighbor said she may have sold them instead of feeding her horses, the report states. Finch, however, said she only received about 120 bales.

A Whidbey Island veterinarian volunteered to assess the horses and found that most of them were thin, had untrimmed hooves and didn’t meet the health standard of the “Henneke body condition score,” the report states. She planned on doing a necropsy of the dead horses, but they were hauled to a landfill and “compacted,” a deputy’s report states.

The veterinarian also assessed the dogs and cats from Finch’s property.

Based on the veterinarian’s assessments of the different animals, the deputy recommended nine counts of animal cruelty in the first degree and 37 counts of animal cruelty in the second degree.

Deputies obtained a search warrant to seize the animals. In all, 11 horses, 24 dogs, 31 cats, two pigs, four chinchillas and some rabbits were seized, surrendered or given away. Whidbey Animals’ Improvement Foundation helped with recovering and sheltering the dogs and cats. The Engle family provided hay for the horses.

A neighbor said he had been feeding Finch’s pigs because they were without food, but one of them was found dead in a field, the report states.

In 2009, Skagit County prosecutors charged Finch with animal cruelty and transporting or confining animals in an unsafe manner. Skagit County animal control seized 39 dogs from her; a veterinarian testified at a related hearing that many of the dogs were severely emaciated and had severe tooth decay, according to a Skagit Valley Herald story.

In the Skagit case, she pleaded guilty to two counts of transporting or confining animals in an unsafe manner, according to court documents.