Local animal cruelty case is a test of our moral obligations

Published 12:16 pm Thursday, December 1, 2022

Animal cruelty is insidious in North Carolina. Even the worst cases that are presented to the courts often are sloughed off as if they were nothing more than a littering citation.


Merely getting the judicial system–police, prosecutors, judges–to investigate and take cases seriously is like trying to boil Lake Lure. That is why so many people who care about this problem are watching the Paws Ranch case in Rutherford County.

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Earlier this week, a grand jury indicted Delores Hanser, 64, of the now-closed facility that she operated in Bostic. That’s where 23 horses, 17 goats and assorted other animals were seized in a raid earlier this year. This week the grand jury indicted her on 16 counts of felony animal cruelty and three counts of violating the county’s ordinances on animal care requirements.


Ted Bell, the district attorney for Rutherford and McDowell counties, declined to answer questions about the case and would not say when the charges will be tried in court. Hanser refused to accept an earlier plea deal offer when the charges on the table were only misdemeanors. Her trial on the new Class H felony charges is now expected to occur next spring. Sentencing guidelines for each conviction range from 4 months to 2 years in jail.


Hanser ran her business as a non-profit that she claimed was an animal rescue facility. She also operated a tax-exempt horse camp for youths, which apparently also has ceased operation.


Hanser remains free on bond while awaiting trial.


You had to actually see the physical condition of the horses Hanser was keeping to understand the depths of their suffering. Many were little more than standing skeletons, with open sores. Even though some of the animals were taken to well-known and credible rescue operations where they immediately were given around-the-clock nutritional and medical care, not all could be saved.


Hanser’s trial will determine more than her guilt or innocence. It will be a test of how our local judicial system views animal cruelty. It will determine whether the system values life and whether it understands the far-reaching implications that animal cruelty has for us in North Carolina.


The state’s track record is abysmal.


Recently, a 20-year-old Winston-Salem man who tried to drown small animals, set some of them on fire, and cut off body parts while laughing as he recorded it all and posted it on the internet, pleaded guilty to 10 counts of felony animal cruelty. The judge gave him a suspended sentence and community service.


What happens in Rutherford County will send a message by answering this question: Do those in key roles in our judicial system,  mostly elected officials, and local citizens care about the quality of life here?


Larry McDermott is a local retired farmer/journalist. Reach him at hardscrabblehollow@gmail.com


Photo of two of the horses seized at Paws Ranch

Photo by Larry McDermott