Friday, September 24, 2010

Horse hoarder in Naples

— A Golden Gate Estates woman’s dream of running a horse rescue foundation in Collier County came to a bitter conclusion on Wednesday when a judge barred her from ever owning horses again.

Tina Ciancaglini, a self-described horse lover who has been called an “animal hoarder” by county officials, was deemed incapable of caring for horses by a Judge Rob Crown after Collier County Domestic Animal Services reported she has consistently failed to provide for her horses.

DAS had been monitoring Ciancaglini’s Estates horse ranch since 2007 when there were reports of neglect. Officers with DAS reported finding consistently thin horses, but worked with her to improve conditions.

Ciancaglini was attempting to run a horse rescue organization, which she called Legacy Rescue Foundation.

But in July, DAS officials finally decided to shut down her horse ranch when, after a citizen complaint, they found 34 malnourished horses.

DAS Director Amanda Townsend said all of the horse scored moderately to dangerously low on a scale that determines healthy weight for horses. One foal since died from malnourishment-related illnesses, she said.

In the three years that the county has monitored the ranch, 19 horses have died in Ciancaglini’s care, reported DAS officer Paul Morris, with causes ranging from panther attacks, electrical fence entanglement and euthanasia due to sickness.

Though the county did not seek criminal animal cruelty charges against Ciancaglini for the deceased and malnourished horses, county attorney Steve Williams said the petition to ban horse ownership was filed to prevent further neglect.

In court on Wednesday, Williams said he doesn’t question Ciancaglini’s love for horses, but he argued she did not have the ability to care for them.

Ciancaglini has maintained that she found herself in a difficult financial situation after losing her job in March. She also cited that she broke both legs in 2007 and her house burned down in 2008.

That, she has said, made it difficult for her to provide proper care.

Ciancaglini’s lawyer, Louis Erickson, called his client “a victim of the Great Recession.”

Erickson also argued their was little reason to permanently ban his client from owning horses, when criminal charges have never been brought against her.

“I think it is absolutely unnecessary in an age where everyone is complaining about government intervention… to restrict this woman from ever owning horses again,” he said.

However, DAS Director Amanda Townsend, who has a background in animal cruelty investigation, said in court that Ciancaglini was likely an “animal hoarder,” or a person who obsessively collects more animals than they care for.

She even recommended the judge mandate psychiatric counseling for Ciancaglini to treat her tendency for collecting horses.

While Ciancaglini admitted that she ran into trouble by having too many horses and not enough resources to care for them, she said she would be capable of caring for horses once she got in better economic standing.

“My situation is purely financial,” she testified at the hearing. “I don’t think I’m an animal hoarder.”

While she said she did not plan to own horses in the near future anyway, Ciancaglini asked Judge Crown not to strip away her rights to be a horse owner in the future.

Her lawyer offered an alternative to a complete horse ban, arguing instead for a limit on the horses his client could own.

Crown neglected the compromise.

Before his ruling, Judge Crown cited testimony that Ciancaglini consistently failed to provide care for the horses she owned.

“Ms. Ciangcaglini, while I certainly hope you do not have another crisis,” he said, “I am not willing to take that risk at the expense of one more horse.”

He ruled not to require psychiatric counseling for Ciancaglini, though, saying that there was no expert testimony to compel that measure.

Townsend praised the ruling. She said it would protect future horses from neglect and save taxpayers money in the cost of monitoring Ciancaglini.

But Ciancaglini said the ruling went too far, and that the government should not be able to restrict her right to own an animal.

Outside the court room after hearing the ruling, she rhetorically asked, “Can you tell someone they can’t have a baby again?”

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