AUGUSTA — A judge ruled Tuesday that a dangerously underweight horse taken Oct. 24 from a Pittston property will remain in state custody, after its owner argued unsuccessfully that the animal should be returned to her during a court hearing at the Capital Judicial Center.

Last month, Kelsey Radley, the owner of the 23-year-old horse, said that the animal had lost about 100 pounds in the last half-year, despite her earnest attempts to feed the animal more and diagnose what health problems might have been causing the weight loss.

Radley declined to comment after the hearing Tuesday.

During the hearing, she maintained that she is able to care for the horse, named Zin, and a mule that shared its enclosure. The mule, named Pocket, also will remain in state custody after being seized in October.

Radley also argued that state animal welfare representatives didn’t give her enough time to follow their recommendations, which included stocking at least two weeks’ worth of hay and repairing the floor of her barn.

“I did comply with everything that was instructed,” she said. “The due process and everything was out of whack with this.”

In testimony Tuesday, a state humane agent and two veterinarians described the horse as dangerously underweight when they saw it in October. They also suggested the mule had a health problem of its own, a bacterial infection on its hooves, and they pointed to the bark gnawed off a tree near the animals’ enclosure that suggested they were looking for other sources of food.

One of the veterinarians, Caitlin Daly, said the horse tested negative for two conditions — Lyme disease or Cushing’s disease — that could have caused it to lose weight, suggesting that it was actually malnourished.

Daly runs a Midcoast practice focused on horses. She saw Zin last summer and again in the fall.

During a visit in August, Zin appeared “thin, but it was not alarming,” Daly testified Tuesday. At the time, she recommended a strict diet to Radley, she continued, under which Zin “definitely shouldn’t have been losing weight; he should have been gaining weight.”

But when Daly saw Zin in late October, she said, he was “emaciated” and she thought he eventually could die if he continued to lose weight, particularly with winter coming.

What’s more, after the horse was brought into state custody and put on a diet of just hay and water, it gained about 40 pounds within three weeks, said Rae-Ann Demos, a state humane agent who responded to complaints about Zin.

Demos also said that when she went to the Pittston home in October, the mule’s hooves appeared unhealthy, were overgrown and caked in mud and manure. And a veterinarian for the state, Rachael Fiske, said the mule appeared to have a bacterial infection on its hooves that’s associated with overexposure to wet areas.

In mid-October, a woman who lives near Radley posted a picture on Facebook of her horse in which its ribs could be seen, and she urged people to contact animal control authorities about it. The image was reposted more than 400 times.

Around that time, Demos testified, she asked Radley to make several changes to her care of the horse and the mule, including regularly keeping an ample supply of hay. But after making daily stops at the property, Demos found Radley wasn’t providing the recommended amount of hay consistently, she said.

Radley said she couldn’t provide hay a couple days because she was away with a health problem and her sister, who was looking after the animals, was busy. She also said her barn would not be capable of storing a lot of hay until she repaired it. But Demos didn’t find those to be satisfactory explanation.

“In my opinion, I didn’t think she could care for them financially; or, if she was having all these issues, physically,” Demos testified.

In her own testimony, Radley questioned that version of events, saying that she had been working to follow Demos’ and Daly’s recommendations. She also cast doubt on whether Demos would have been able to see her property adequately from the road to assess how much hay was there, and whether she was misrepresenting how much food they were feeding the horse when it recently gained 40 pounds.

“I know I can take care of them,” she said. “I know that’s hard to believe for some people, because he did lose a lot of weight, but I also acknowledged he lost all that weight, which is why the vet came out in the first place. … I wasn’t given a chance to prove that I could get a healthy weight on him.”

After explaining that the burden was on Radley to explain why the horse and mule should be returned to her custody, Judge Paul Mathews said that she failed to meet that legal standard.

“There’s no question in my mind that your intentions are good, that you love these animals,” Mathews said, but he added that “the court finds that these animals were not adequately cared for and that over the course of the time period which culminated in October, (there was) what the court understands to be, as it relates to the horse, a crisis situation, and it’s a result of the horse losing weight. That was apparent certainly in July and certainly in August.”

Mathews also referred to pictures taken before and after the horse gained about 40 pounds in state custody.

“It is clear, as a result of that, it wasn’t any other condition; it was the nourishment the horse experienced under your care,” he continued. “The court finds the animals were cruelly treated.”

Before Mathews found that there were grounds for Radley to forfeit the animals, an assistant district attorney, Tracy DeVoll, said the state would like to have the animals put up for adoption by a family that can care for them.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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