Last week, Care2 brought you the tragic story of a deadly dog camp in Sky Valley, near Palm Springs, California. The camp had been there for years, with local residents desperately concerned, but unable to get it shut down.
I’m thrilled to let you know that, on July 25, four Animal Control trucks, six SUVs and one white van stormed the remote desert property, and rescued the ten Queensland Heeler dogs that they found there. The dogs are now in protective custody in a non-public area at one of the county’s shelters.
The owner of this camp, Mary Bernadette Schwenn, was arrested at the Indio branch of the Riverside County Law Library last week and charged with 10 counts of felony animal cruelty and 20 other misdemeanor charges relating to the improper care of animals. She was taken to the Larson Justice Center jail in Indio, CA, and her bail was set at $50,000. She could face a sentence ranging from probation to nine years in custody if convicted.
We want to thank the almost 40,000 Care2 members who signed our petition asking Riverside County Supervisor John J. Benoit to close the deadly dog camp. Your actions, along with pressure from many local residents, finally persuaded Benoit that he needed to take action.
This is a huge step forward, but it’s not over yet.
On July 29, at her arraignment, Schwenn pleaded not guilty to animal cruelty charges for allegedly neglecting dogs on her property. She was ordered back to court on August 2 for a bail review hearing.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Ronald L. Johnson kept her bail at $50,000 and ordered her not to possess or have contact with animals if she posts bail before the hearing.
Since Schwenn’s actions suggest that she may be unstable, he might have been wise to order that she undergo psychiatric evaluation. However, what is most important for now is that she is not allowed to have any further contact with animals.
For even though only ten dogs were rescued last week, it appears likely that several hundred dogs died under Schwenn’s care during the last 17 years, given the property’s wretched conditions: no fencing and no running water or electricity, at a place where the average daytime temperature in the summer is around 110 degrees and can reach 135 degrees.
Riverside County Supervisor John J. Benoit has taken a lot of heat for not acting more quickly on this dog death camp.
The Desert Star Weekly reports that his office sent the following email statement immediately after Schwenn’s arrest:
“I am writing to inform you of a tremendous development in the case of Mary Bernadette Schwenn and her Sky Valley property,” said Riverside County Supervisor John J. Benoit.
“This morning (July 25, 2013) Ms. Schwenn was arrested on new felony animal cruelty charges. As of noon, Riverside County Department of Animal Services officers have impounded 10 dogs there. The arrest follows daily visits by Animal Services to the property and extensive efforts by numerous county departments.
“Also, Riverside County Code Enforcement was out there today issuing notices of violation for excess outside storage, rubbish and junk vehicles.
“My priority all along has been to protect these animals and prevent Ms. Schwenn from getting more. Today’s arrest and resulting seizure of her dogs is a monumental step towards this goal. However, we know that this case is ongoing until the final judicial outcome.
“Thanks to all of you who became involved and helped push this issue forward. Your genuine concern for all animals is to be commended, and I hope we will see closure soon. I will continue to send you updates,” Benoit concluded in his email.
Although these dogs have been rescued, there is still more that needs to be done. We hope that Schwenn gets the psychological help she clearly needs and we hope that protecting the animals remains a top priority. Please sign Christy Schilling’s (Care2 member and President of The Animal Protectorates) petition asking that Schwenn never be allowed near animals again, and that the animals that were saved are treated humanely.
And thank you so much.
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