More than a dozen two-deputy teams from the Harris County Precinct 1 Constable’s Office conducted a warrant roundup it dubbed “Operation: Don’t be Cruel” on Aug. 10. Those arrested were wanted on outstanding animal cruelty charges, with some of the cases dating back to 2017.
In all, 13 suspects were arrested and 25 warrants were cleared. Among those arrested was Acres Homes resident Gerrald Eugene Smalley, who has been charged with failing to provide necessary food, water and care for a livestock animal, in this case a horse.
Smalley’s horse is not the same animal that the Houston SPCA posted about on its Facebook page in late May, severely emaciated and tied to a fence. In that case, authorities confiscated the horse and were searching for its owner.
According to court records, on June 19, a call to the HSPCA regarding an underweight horse prompted an investigation by the HSPCA and Precinct 1. An HSPCA investigator went to Smalley’s residence and advised him that a brown horse on his property was underweight and needed to be seen by a licensed veterinarian. After two more written notices were given and disregarded by Smalley, according to court records, a civil seizure warrant for the brown horse was obtained and the HSPCA took the horse.
The HSPCA gave the horse a body condition score of 3 out of 9 and diagnosed it with internal parasites and mildly overgrown hoof walls. As the horse was young and growing, the HSPCA stated it was critical to provide it with proper nutrition to prevent a variety of orthopedic and metabolic problems in adulthood.
At a seizure hearing July 10, attended by Smalley, the animal was awarded to the HSPCA.
One of the higher-profile arrests in the operation was that of Edmond Megdal, who had more than 200 animals discovered on his property located in Southeast Houston. The animals included birds, turtles, mice, rabbits and bearded dragons. They were discovered living in deplorable conditions without access even to water, according to Precinct 1.
The majority of those arrested face Class A misdemeanor animal cruelty charges, punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of $4,000.
Precinct 1 spokesperson Kevin Quinn said the welfare of the animal is paramount in these cases, and the animals were taken from their owners in a civil action as the first step while the criminal investigation continued.
“They are evaluated and treated at the Houston SPCA,” Quinn said. “Once well enough they can be offered for adoption.”
HSPCA spokesperson Julie Kuenstle said the organization sees all manner of animals come through their facility on Old Katy Road, including horses, sheep, goats and chickens.
Kuenstle said the HSPCA investigates 6,000 cases of animal cruelty per year in a partnership with Precinct 1.
She said the majority of what the SPCA does is education, including welfare checks.
“We try to work with the owner,” Kuenstle said. ”Sometimes they just don’t know.”
Sometimes an owner will surrender their animals because of their own declining health or because they have taken on more than they can manage. Other times, as with Smalley’s case, a warrant is secured because an animal is determind to need rescuing. After that, a custody hearing is sought so the HSPCA can obtain custody.
For the horses in the HSPCA’s care, there is a 26-stall barn on HSPCA’s new campus where they can get the help they need. Kuenstle said the vet care they receive reduces their level of stress and helps them heal. For the most severe cases, the road to health is long and sometimes uncertain.
“When a horse has lost 200 pounds, it is not an easy feat to put that weight back,” Kuenstle said.
Kuenstle said the HSPCA needs the community to be its eyes and ears to help protect animals.
“Go ahead and report it,” she said. “We’ll go check it out.”
Precinct 1’s animal cruelty hotline can be reached at 832-927-1659. The Houston SPCA has a similar animal cruelty tip line at 713-869-7722.