In an unusual outcome, a North Whidbey man who neglected two horses will have the choice of going to jail or being electronically monitored at home.
Meanwhile, the county’s animal control officer has started a fund to take care of the horses and other farm animals in need of help.
Donald L. Gritten, dressed in a leather fringe jacket and holding a cavalry hat, pleaded guilty in Island County District Court Tuesday morning to two counts of animal cruelty in the second degree.
In his statement of guilt, 50-year-old Gritten wrote that he failed to provide necessary medical attention and was negligent in doing so.
His attorney, Andrew Rice of Coupeville, said Gritten didn’t meant to harm the animals.
“He bought the two horses and I think he got in over his head,” he said, “and wasn’t able to take care of them like he wanted to or should have.”
Gritten was arrested on a warrant in September after he failed to appear to the arraignment hearing.
Judge Peter Strow followed the sentencing recommendation from the prosecutor and sentenced Gritten to 90 days in jail with 85 days suspended, plus a $500 fine.
Strow said Gritten could either serve the five days in jail or serve 30 days of electronic home monitoring, at his expense. Rice indicated that his client would rather do home monitoring.
Gritten agreed to surrender the two horses and not possess any other horses during probation.
A restitution hearing was set for Jan. 29, 2013; the horses required veterinarian care after being taken from Gritten.
Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said it was unusual for a defendant to receive jail time for misdemeanor animal cruelty charges, but it’s not completely unheard of. He said animal cruelty cases in general are not common.
Island County Animal Control Officer Carol Barnes served a warrant and seized the horses from Gritten’s farm July 28 after determining that they had been denied adequate food, nutrition and veterinarian care.
She later cited him for animal cruelty.
She said the mare appeared emaciated and malnourished, while the gelding needed medical attention. They were taken to a secret location, where veterinarian Robert Moody and volunteers cared for them.
“They have responded well to the care that’s been provided to them by the team of volunteers,” she said. “It’s amazing what a little food and veterinarian care can do.”
The county, however, doesn’t have a fund to take care of horse or other domestic animals that have been taken away from owners or abandoned.
As a result, Barnes decided to set up a fund. It’s called the WI Farm Animal Assistance Program at Whidbey Island Bank or PO Box 402, Coupeville, 98239.
Donations are currently not tax deductible, but she is working on filing the paperwork to become a nonprofit.