Sonoma Co. man faces animal abuse charges; 1 dead horse, several emaciated horses found on property

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A 65-year-old Cloverdale man was arrested for animal abuse after a dead horse and 12 malnourished and neglected horses were found on his property. 

Joseph Rafael was booked on more than a dozen of felony animal abuse. At least one horse weighed about half of what it should have. 

According to the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office, a neighbor noticed the horses on Rafael's property were in bad shape so she began bringing them food on her own.

On Wednesday, when she arrived at Rafael's property, she found that one of the horses was dead while others showed signs of emaciation and neglect. 

"You can see she is very very thin. You can see how her spine very prominently here, especially at the top of her tail you can see she lost most of her muscle," said Heather Bailey who is part of a horse rescue organization called CHANGE. The non-profit is working with Sonoma County Animal Control. 

Bailey is now caring for that horse and another in her barn in Sonoma County.

When a deputy arrived at the property in the 25800 block of River Road last week, the deputy found the dead horse, and 12 other horses on the property that were in nearly knee high mud and they showed signs of malnourishment. A 13th horse died on the property. 

"Our deputy went out there. It's a small pasture. Due to the rain it's saturated with mud. These horses were found standing in knee-high water you could see bones coming through the skin. They were emaciated," said Sgt. Spencer Crum, Sonoma County Sheriff's Department spokesman.

Rafael said he was aware of the malnourished horses, and said he had been trying different options to put weight on the animals, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office. 

Other neighbors provided statements that showed a long pattern of the animals being undernourished. 

CHANGE placed the remaining horses in a trailer and moved them to foster-care stables throughout the county. They hope to restore the animals to full health. 

Rafael has since been released from jail on a $10,000 bail bond. KTVU could not reach him for comment. 

"He told us the horse that died had been in his possession for less then a year. And when he got it, it was underweight and he tried to ut weight on it. We have some evidence that he has owned the horse longer than that. And when he got it it was in fine condition," said Crum.

"The two stallions we pulled out had no room to move around," said Bailey.

She says it is hard to know exactly what went wrong.

"If you get in over your head with horses, which is easy to do admittedly, you need to take some responsibility and reach out for assistance. Don't wait until you have animals starving to death in your front yard," said Bailey.

The remaining horses in foster care are all expected to survive.

KTVU's Rob Roth contributed to this story.