A long-awaited trial for a Prince George area man facing animal cruelty charges began Tuesday with a veterinarian describing most of the horses seized as thin to emaciated.
Stephen Thomas Johnson, 55, faces one count each of causing unnecessary pain or suffering to an animal and failing to provide necessities for an animal under the Criminal Code and causing an animal to continue to be in distress under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
Crown prosecution is alleging Johnson only partially complied with an order to improve his standard of care and the health of the horses continued to deteriorate to the point where in January 2011 the B.C. Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals seized 15 of the 32 in his care.
Under questioning from Crown counsel Lorne Phipps, veterinary doctor Jodyne Green described in particular the condition of a young filly she first examined at Johnson's property the same month the horses were eventually seized.
Green said Johnson called her to examine the horse, which was about 8 months old, in regards to an SPCA order. She described the horse as thin but with some fat on her and said it would have taken several months to reach that condition, likely due to a lack of food, poor nutritional quality of the feed the filly did receive and lack of adequate water.
She also noticed swelling on the left hind leg with puss coming from a wound and found the horse suffered from an "obvious lameness" when walking or trotting. Johnson had been administering penicillin to the horse but not frequently enough and not in large enough volumes, prompting Green to recommend he increase the shots to once a day from once every two or three days and to increase the dosage given each time.
Without proper treatment, the likelihood of recovery would have been poor and the ailment life-threatening, Green told the court.
"Unfortunately, horses are not meant to live on three legs, they need to be sound on all four legs in order to be able to go about daily functions so it would have been a risk that the horse would have to be euthanized," Green said.
Looking at photos taken of the horse after it was seized, Green said it looked thinner. Roughly 10 weeks later, when she revisited the horse, this time directly on behalf of the SPCA, at the Prince George Equine Rescue Society on Bendixon Road, she found the horse was no longer lame and was told the horse had been on antibiotics for about 10 days after it was seized.
"It's my opinion that for the horse to have improved so dramatically over a 10-day period, it's unlikely the penicillin was administered as recommended," Green said of Johnson's response to her original suggestion.
Green estimated the horse's weight had declined from 175 kilograms to 150 kilograms over the time between the two visits and rated her body condition to be in "very poor health."
On that day, Green evaluated 14 thoroughbred horses seized from Johnson, including a mare she described as emaciated with extremely prominent hip bones, vertebrae, ribs, and shoulders and no palpable fat.
She also found a crack up the front of one hoof ,which Green determined was due to a lack of appropriate and timely trimming. The mare was lame on the right front leg and had an "obvious head bob" when she moved, the court was told.
She also rated the body condition of another mare as emaciated and with a wound on its left hind leg that could have been treated with proper dressing and a cast to immobilize the area for four to six weeks.
Three days later, Green returned to examine an aborted fetus and placenta from another mare and suspected the miscarriage occurred because of the stress caused by that horse's poor body condition.
The matter had originally been set for trial in March 2013, but the case was reassigned to another judge because of a conflict-of-interest concern and a new date of August 2013 was set.
However, Johnson and his lawyer parted ways in the interim and he was more given time to find new counsel. Johnson remains self-represented and although there was some concern he would not appear Tuesday, he was present when the trial got underway in the afternoon.
Had Johnson been a no-show, the court was prepared to hold the trial in his absence.
The trial in Provincial Court continues Wednesday at the Prince George courthouse.
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