The heroes in the Hanser animal cruelty conviction

Published 12:17 pm Friday, September 1, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Our tendency to identify heroes in a case of good versus evil is as old as time. In last week’s conviction of Delores Hanser on felony animal cruelty charges, there was no shortage of candidates for the halo.

Let’s start with Dr. Emilie Setlakwe of the Tryon Equine Hospital. She was a member of the team that served Hanser with a search warrant and helped carry out the on-scene investigation. She testified in a laser-like fashion that all the horses at Hanser’s Paws Ranch Equine Rescue Farm in Bostic were housed in hazardous, unsafe and unsanitary conditions with no sign of food. Twenty-three were seized.

But it was what she didn’t say that was palpable. She didn’t mention that she was slogging around the freezing, filthy conditions and examining horses that were mere skeletons, others dying on the spot, just a week after giving birth to a daughter. That woman is as tough as boot leather.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Multiple professional equine rescuers from near and far gave chapter and verse on what was wrong at Delores’ place while having the defense pick away at their credentials.

Kathy “Kat” Hamilton, who was the Rutherford County Animal Control Services manager when the raid occurred, was a key witness for District Attorney Ted Bell’s prosecution of Hanser. What Hamilton didn’t mention was that when she stood up to county officials and insisted that what Hanser was doing was criminal and should be stopped, she was putting her job on the line. (She subsequently left to take over running Foothills Humane Society in Polk County.)

Do you want to know who the greatest heroes were in what was the most important animal cruelty criminal case in Rutherford County, maybe ever?

The jury.

Eight women. Four men. Quiet. Attentive. Loaded with common sense. Down to earth. Local folk. They took copious notes as witnesses testified, as the judge talked to them, and as the lawyers lawyered. They listened to the roll call of horses who suffered at their keeper’s hand: Cowgirl, Amigo, Copper, Zephyra, Lisa, Poet and more.

They carefully measured the testimony of a deputy, a witness for the defense, who was sent to Hanser’s farm to investigate but said she saw nothing wrong. The complaints, she said, came from a bunch of outsiders and were a waste of her time. 

They gave up four days of their lives to decide what was right and what was wrong in a notorious case. And in the end, as it was in the beginning, they remain essentially anonymous. You didn’t see them on the 6 o’clock news talking to a TV reporter after the case was adjudicated, did you? You will possibly walk past one of them at the grocery store and never know what they did for us, so let me tell you.

They stood up and were counted. When the judge asked each individual to affirm their guilty conviction, each did so in a firm voice that reverberated in the courtroom.

They are your heroes, folks. Citizens who did their civic duty, then went home to cook supper, change a tire, do their exercises, finish reading a book, mow the yard.

To them, this wasn’t a waste of their time.

Larry McDermott is a retired local farmer/journalist. Reach him at