By Diane Madigan
Independent Court Reporter
On Dec. 11 Sumpter Township resident Gary Louis Guenther, 69, took a plea deal in which he admitted he failed to properly care for his animals by not getting them properly dewormed and not providing shelter.
He also agreed to forfeit his 13 equines which included 11 horses and 2 mules, and neuter or spay his four dogs, which he would get back immediately.
According to Sumpter Detective John Toth, on Oct. 5, Sumpter Police Officers Danielle Buccellato and Colleen Carefelle responded to an animal-at-large complaint in the 26000 block of Sherwood Road. On the scene were 13 horses running loose. The officers were able to determine where they belonged. They found one horse in a metal corral containing three feet of feces.
They served a search warrant and police walked the property. They found animal remains of a goat and one horse in a burn pile. Additional skeletal remains of goats and a cat were found alongside the burn pile.
Guenther was arrested for Cruelty to 10 or More Animals, which under Michigan law is a felony and could have landed him in prison for up to four years.
At his Dec. 11 preliminary examination at 34th District Court in Romulus, Guenther appeared with his attorney Brian Stacey before Judge David M. Parrott. Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Rajesh Krishna Prasad, cofounder of Wayne County’s Animal Protection Unit, represented the People.
Stating that Guenther has documented health issues and is almost 70 years old, Stacey opened the hearing and preliminary exam saying that a proposed plea agreement had been reached.
Judge Parrott read the proposed plea agreement in which Guenther was to plead guilty to Attempted Animal Cruelty, Abandonment of 4 to 10 Animals MCL 750.50(4)c a one-year misdemeanor, be placed on probation for a period of two years, and agree to unannounced daytime checks by Sumpter Township Police.
Also under the plea agreement, Guenther cannot own, possess or care for any livestock or equines. He may own up to four dogs that must be spayed or neutered, and must show proof of annual veterinary care and licensing.
Stacy agreed to immediate sentencing.
Judge Parrott had no objection to the sentencing agreement and was willing to accept the plea on that basis. Guenther agreed to serving two years of probation and paying restitution to Sumpter Police for veterinary expenses of $492. He also agreed to forfeit 13 equines seized on Nov. 22 at 26551 Sherwood Road.
Through questioning by his attorney Stacey, Guenther was asked questions to establish a factual basis for a guilty plea, a process referred to by the attorney as voir dire.
Before immediate sentencing, Stacey, spoke in his client’s defense, saying people had left some of the animals with him.
“He saves them in a sense, but he was neglectful,” Stacey said. “He did the best he could. He loves his animals and these are the worst days of his life. He’s happy to hear the animals are doing well. He’s confident the two facilities that have taken the animals in are going to do a good job taking care of them.”
Stacey said they talked about Guenther’s four dogs being returned to him. Detective Toth said the dogs would be released once the dogs have their veterinarian appointments scheduled and they see proof that they’ve been spayed or neutered at Guenther’s expense.
Guenther said, “I want my dogs just the way they are.”
Judge Parrott said, that is going to be a condition for probation if he wants the dogs back.
Guenther replied, “I want them back now. There was no reason to take them.”
Stacey interrupted, saying that Guenther recently purchased two young beagles. Guenther said he was teaching them how to run out in the woods and catch rabbits.
It was agreed that Guenther could have his dogs back immediately and would have 30 days to spay or neuter his dogs and show proof to the court’s probation department.
In his summary statement, Prosecutor Prasad said, “The sentence agreement that this court is approving is one taking this defendant’s issues in mind. We recognize that he cares for his animals and also fearful that taking care of them has gotten away from him, especially with regards to the equine. This judgment will hopefully resolve those issues.
Judge Parrott said that in an earlier hearing, the defendant said that he loves his animals.
“I agree with the People that it seems that issue has gotten away from you, sir,” Judge Parrott said to Guenther. “But, it has caused quite a bit of pain and suffering on the part of the animals.
“I hope you understand that if you truly do love those animals, this is all for the best.
Judge Parrott said he believes the unannounced daytime checks to be performed by Sumpter Police is technically probation and didn’t think a reporting probation was necessary, given the defendant’s health issues.
On the other hand, that could change if the situation warrants.
“I always reserve the right if probation is violated to put somebody in jail,” Judge Parrott warned.
He spelled out fines and costs of over $1,000.
“I’m not going to sentence you to any jail at this point in time,” Parrott said. “I do retain the discretion to sentence you to jail if you violate the terms of the probation in the plea agreement. If you do so, your probation could be revoked and you will be sentenced anything up to one year in jail. So please abide by the terms of this agreement.”
Several representatives from horse rescues that are currently caring for Guenther’s forfeited horses were in the courtroom, including Nancy from Loving Arms Ranch Rescue with an office in Sumpter Township and Jill Fritz from Michigan Horse Welfare Coalition who advised the coalition has a hay bank to help needy people care for their horses. For information, call (517) 321-3683.
Tax-exempt donations to these rescues will help with the care and adoption of the equines.
By Diane Madigan