A well-known Mendocino County organic farmer and wine maker is facing trial on misdemeanor charges of animal neglect and cruelty.
Guinness McFadden severely neglected his aging burro, then shot it multiple times while attempting to put it out of its misery, according to a report by Mendocino County Sheriff's Deputy Christian Denton.
McFadden, an outspoken Potter Valley rancher who specializes in organic winegrapes, herbs, rice and cattle, declined to comment on the charges filed by the Mendocino County District Attorney's Office.
According to the Sheriff's report, the burro had been neglected for years. Its hooves had been allowed to grow to more than a foot in length, causing them to spiral and bend at 90 degree angles, according to the report. The deformities forced the burro to walk on its fetlocks instead of its twisted hooves, photos of the animal show.
"The animal appeared to be in pain and had extreme trouble walking," Denton states in the report.
The burro also had an oozing, volley ball-sized tumor on its chest, according to the Sheriff's report.
McFadden had been aware of the hoof problem since at least June 2007, when Animal Control officials first warned him to have the burro's hooves trimmed, according to the Sheriff's report.
He was again warned in early 2009, when the burro's condition was reported to the Humane Society, according to Denton's report. McFadden claimed he had a farrier trim the hooves, but the overgrown hooves would have required multiple treatments.
The burro also apparently suffered from laminitis, a hoof inflammation usually brought on by eating carbohydrate rich grass or clover, said county Veterinarian Robert Shugart. Untreated, the inflammation can result in abnormal hoof growth as the animal shifts its weight to its heel to lessen the pain, he said. Hooves can become as long and twisted as those of McFadden's burro in about a year, Shugart said.
In the wild, burros don't have access to rich grass, and their hooves are naturally worn down by hard, rocky ground. Their hooves may get longer as they age and become less mobile, but predators are likely to cut short their suffering, according to county Animal Control and Bureau of Land Management officials.
"Typically, they won't live that long," said BLM spokesman Jeff Fontana. Wild burros' typical life span is about 20 years, he said. McFadden's burro was about 35 years old.
By January of this year, its hooves had grown to almost 16 inches, according to the Sheriff's report.
Appalled, Potter Valley PG&E power plant employees phoned the Sheriff's Office, which oversees animal control enforcement. The burro was grazing on land adjacent to the power plant, which McFadden leases from PG&E for his cattle.
When he saw the burro's condition, Denton told McFadden he needed to get the animal immediate care or put it down.
He said he was surprised by the animal's condition.
"McFadden is well to do and raises cattle, among several other businesses, and could easily afford veterinary care for his animals," Denton said.
McFadden told him he infrequently sees the burro, the last of four he adopted about 30 years ago through the Bureau of Land Management's wild horse and burro program.
McFadden asked Denton to help him shoot the burro, but Denton was ordered to another assignment and had to leave, according to the report. He instructed McFadden to shoot the burro behind the ear.