Cloverdale man who neglected horses ordered to pay nonprofit that rescued them

A Cloverdale man convicted on multiple felony counts of animal abuse in connection with 12 horses that had been under his care has been ordered to pay more than $76,000 to the nonprofit that rescued the animals and has nursed them back to health.

Sonoma County Judge Peter Ottenweller ordered Joseph Fraga Rafael, 67, to pay restitution to the Sonoma County CHANGE rescue group, according to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office. The animal welfare organization cared for the rescued horses and found them new homes, a process that took months for some and years for others, the District Attorney’s Office said in a press release.

Ottenweller’s order on Wednesday came more than two years after Rafael pleaded no contest to three felony counts of animal neglect/abuse in July 2018 and was sentenced to five years probation and 240 hours of community service. He also was ordered not to own any animals for five years. An attempt to reach Rafael by phone Thursday was unsuccessful.

Investigators in March 2018 discovered a dead horse on Rafael’s property. A follow-up search turned up 12 additional living horses, which the District Attorney’s Office said were “extremely malnourished and had various untreated medical conditions.”

Sonoma County Animal Services removed the horses from the property and delivered them to the care of Santa Rosa-based Sonoma County CHANGE, whose name stands for Coins to Help Abandoned and Neglected Equines.

The nonprofit has assisted law enforcement with transportation, foster and rehabilitative care and adoption in cases that involve horses since 2007. It is not a government agency and is funded solely through private donations.

The restitution amount represents the estimated cost to the nonprofit to rehabilitate the horses and find them new homes.

A call to Sonoma County CHANGE was not returned Thursday, and the District Attorney’s Office did not respond to questions about the investigation that led to the discovery of the horses in 2018.

You can reach Staff Writer Kaylee Tornay at 707-521-5250 or On Twitter @ka_tornay.

Kaylee Tornay

Education, The Press Democrat

Learning is a transformative experience. Beyond that, it’s a right, under the law, for every child in this country. But we also look to local schools to do much more than teach children; they are tasked with feeding them, socializing them and offering skills in leadership and civics. My job is to help you make sense of K-12 education in Sonoma County and beyond.  

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