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Couple Charged with Animal Cruelty; Nine Horses Seized

Posted on Aug 24, 2007 - 9:11 AM
Rutland Herald

August 24, 2007

PATRICK McARDLE Herald Staff

READSBORO A local couple who has been investigated for animal neglect twice in the last two years are each facing nine charges of animal cruelty after investigators removed nine horses, including a foal that died a week after being taken, to the Windham County Humane Society in Brattleboro.

Bennington County State's Attorney Erica Marthage submitted the charges against Doug Nicklien, 45, and Judith Page, 46, of Readsboro, recently and probable cause was found by the court on Aug. 10.

The charges are misdemeanors but could be used to prevent the couple from having animals in their care for a period of time or until certain court-ordered conditions are met.

Page and Nicklien were investigated by Joanne Bourbeau, Vermont regional director of the Humane Society of the United States and president of the Vermont Humane Federation.

In an affidavit, Bourbeau wrote that the couple was known through the Readsboro area for neglecting animals.

"Every person that I have spoken with in the community either in direct or indirect connection to this case has asked me the same question: 'Is she going to be prosecuted this time?' I believe that criminal prosecution is warranted at this time and I strongly believe that the community at large would like to see Judy Page and Doug Nicklien held accountable for their actions (and inactions) which led to the severe neglect and unnecessary suffering of these horses," Bourbeau wrote.

Bourbeau said a Readsboro woman contacted her by e-mail in May to complain about the conditions on the Page and Nicklien farm, in the Heartwellville hamlet of Readsboro on Route 100, where four mares, two 1-month-old foals, a stallion and a colt yearling were being kept.

According to the affidavit, Bourbeau visited the farm several times and took photographs but was not able to speak with Page and Nicklien until June 7. On that trip, Bourbeau was joined by Vermont State Police Trooper Jesse Robson, veterinarian Dr. Susan Kelly, two staff members from the Windham County Humane Society and Tom Harriman, the former animal cruelty investigator for the Second Chance Animal Shelter in Shaftsbury.

Bourbeau said there were only two bales of hay visible on the property and neither was edible. Harriman told Bourbeau he investigated the horses' water source and found it was "about two inches of green water in a bathtub."

In June, Suzanne Caviola, shelter manager and humane officer for the Windham County Humane Society, said the horses were standing in a pasture of deep mud and manure, their hooves were in bad condition and split in some cases, and there was no indication the horses had been treated by veterinarians.

Nicklien agreed to turn the horses over to the Humane Society, according to Bourbeau, and while the investigative team was attempting to arrange transportation, they learned there was another horse on the property. Bourbeau said it was "an older stallion who was severely emaciated."

In the affidavit, Bourbeau said Nicklien told investigators the horse did not belong to him and Page but that the owner had left the horse on their farm and they had not been able to contact her.

Bourbeau said plans had been made to euthanize the horse because of his age and health but the owner had contacted the Humane Society and refused to turn over the horse. On Thursday, Bourbeau said she couldn't comment on the horse's current status.

The foal died June 16, but Bourbeau said veterinarian Dr. Reggie Tschorn, of Arlington Equine, told her he couldn't testify that the foal definitely died from any injury, illness or neglect suffered at the Readsboro farm.

At least three of the mares on the Nicklien and Page farm were rescued animals known as "Premarin horses."

The drug Premarin, used in estrogen replacement therapy and to prevent heart disease and osteoporosis, is made from the urine of pregnant mares. When mares are no longer fertile and can't produce the urine, they and their foals are often slaughtered, sometimes to be used for human consumption overseas, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

Bourbeau said the Humane Society would recommend that Nicklien and Page not be allowed to own horses in the future.

"They were investigated before, in 2005. They had an opportunity to correct conditions, reduce the number of horses and here we are again. I don't think we can trust that they can self-supervise," she said.

The horses are available for adoption although Bourbeau said some would need more care from experienced horse owners.

The Humane Society also seeks contributions toward the horses' care. According to Bourbeau, veterinarian care alone has cost more than $3,000 and continues to increase. For information on contributing to the horses' care, call the Windham County Humane Society at 254-2232.

Nicklien and Page are scheduled to be arraigned in Bennington County District Court on Monday.

Contact Patrick McArdle at patrick.mcardle@rutalndherald.com.


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