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Renton-area man charged with animal cruelty

A Renton-area man has been charged with three felony counts of first-degree animal cruelty, following the death of an emaciated horse on his property and what prosecutors say was neglect of other horses.

If convicted, Michael J.C. Perry could face a year in jail, and potentially up to five years in jail, according to Dan Donohoe, a spokesman for the King County Prosecutor’s Office.

Perry, 63, pleaded not guilty Tuesday at an arraignment in Kent in King County Superior Court. The next step is the setting of a trial date, which will happen in the next several weeks.

In an interview Tuesday, Perry’s attorney, Phil Mahoney of Seattle, said the charging papers are full of errors. For example, the prosecutors’ claims that mud was two-feet deep on the property is “flat-out untrue.”

“There are facts that are false and can be demonstrated to be false,” he said.

In early February, 15 horses were removed from Perry’s property, including several that needed medical attention, according to county prosecutors. Two other horses were removed from a neighbor’s property.

Perry has petitioned for the return of his horses.

Dr. Dana Bridges, a Monroe veterinarian who specializes in the care of horses, said the horses are “doing well” at an animal-rescue facility in Arlington. Many had lost much of their hair due to malnourishment, she said.

Bridges is a member of the advisory board of Pasado’s Safe Haven, an animal-rescue group.

Bridges had accompanied King County Animal Control Sgt. Steve Couvion to Perry’s property in late January to examine the horses. She made subsequent visits, too, including to do a necropsy on the horse that died.

Perry’s friends and neighbors had already rallied to help him care for his horses, according to Rick Spence, a May Valley activist and horseman.

“This is not animal cruelty at all,” Spence said.

Spence said arrangements were made for foster care for some of Perry’s horses.

The horse which died suffered from colic, he said. In such a situation, feed is withheld, he said.

The enforcement, he said, is being pushed by carriage owners in Seattle who don’t want Perry and his horses competing with their horse-and-buggy rides.

“There are a lot of questionable issues,” he said.

In an interview, Perry said he has pads for his horses to stand on and that he had hay to feed his horses. Mud was not two feet deep, as prosecutors allege, he said.

The horse that died was in its 30s. It was one of his favorites.

“It was a nice horse,” he said. “It wasn’t skinny.”

Perry said he has lost his job shoeing horses at Emerald Downs racetrack because of the charges.

In the charging papers, prosecutors wrote in each count that between Jan. 1 and Feb. 8, Perry did “with criminal negligence starve, dehydrate or suffocate an animal and as a result caused substantial and unjustifiable physical pain that extended for a period sufficient to cause considerable suffering.”

According to prosecutors, Couvion, the animal-control sergeant, on Jan. 31 responded to complaints of animal abuse and neglect on Perry’s five-acre parcel in the 13400 block of 156th Avenue Southeast.

Couvion had asked Bridges, the veterinarian, to meet him. Couvion found 14 horses and a pony “standing in mud and mixed fecal matter,” according to prosecutors.

“There was no visible food, clean water nor shelter,” prosecutors wrote.

Bridges examined three horses, including a pony, which she found were emaciated. Other horses were infected with lice and appeared under-weight, according to prosecutors.

Five horses inside a barn were of “adequate weight” but were confined to small stalls, according to prosecutors. Large rats were running about.

In talking with Perry, the sergeant discovered that Perry was feeding the horses “moldy bread and very old fruits and vegetables,” according to prosecutors.

According to Spence, experts believe that feeding bread to horses is appropriate.

Perry was issued a warning and told to clean the stalls and feed the horses “good-quality” hay, according to prosecutors. Perry’s veterinarian also was at the property and told Perry to stop feeding the horses “the garbage” on the property, according to prosecutors.

On Feb. 2, Perry told the animal-control sergeant he had hired a person to help with the cleanup.

On Feb. 6 on the way to a follow-up visit, Couvion received a phone call from Spence that a horse had died and Perry was upset. Spence asked whether the sergeant could postpone the visit, according to prosecutors.

Couvion continued to the property and was told the horse had died about two hours earlier. According to prosecutors, Perry gave his permission to allow Bridges to examine the horse, saying he had nothing to hide.

Bridges determined the horse died of a ruptured gut and had “suffered considerably” for about 24 hours prior to its death.

Five horses were taken away for medical care and 10 horses were removed because of lack of food and their living conditions, according to prosecutors.

The next day, Feb. 7, two other horses were found on a neighbor’s property “in worse condition” than those found earlier, according to prosecutors. However, Spence said those two horses were in the “foster” care of the property owner.

Dean A. Radford can be reached at 425-255-3484, ext. 5050, or at dean.radford@rentonreporter.com.

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