Local News

Woman charged with starving horses that were found dead on Wake County property

Posted January 23, 2019 4:34 p.m. EST
Updated January 24, 2019 6:54 p.m. EST

A woman has was charged after authorities on said that nearly two dozen horses found dead on a Wake County property last week died as a result of starvation made her first court appearance on Thursday.

Twenty-two horses, as well as one deceased dog and one living dog, were found at a home on Fanny Brown Road in the southern part of the county on Friday.

Two small horses and two large horses were removed from the site for testing and a necropsy determined the animals had been starved to death, according to Eric Curry with the Wake County Sheriff's Office.

The bodies of the other horses had been removed from the property by Wednesday, Curry said.

Janet Elaine Lavender Burleson, 64, of 555 Cross Roads Boulevard in Cary, has been charged with 23 counts of felony killing an animal by starvation and 1 count of felony cruelty to animals.

According to an arrest warrant, Burleson deprived the each of the horses of "adequate food and water while it was kept locked inside a small, insufficient pen which prevented the animal a chance to fend for its own survival, resulting in the death of the animal due to starvation."

Burleson was being held at the Wake County Detention Center under $250,000 bond. She was appointed a public defender and is expected to make her next court appearance on Feb. 14.

Authorities said the property where the horses were found dead belonged to Burleson's deceased parents.

For people who care for animals regularly, the deaths of the horses are hard to forget.

"They probably didn't all die at the same time," Jennifer Federico with the Wake County Animal Shelter said of the horses.

Federico, who owns and cares for several horses, said she was completely heartbroken when she learned of the deaths.

"I didn't want to think that anyone would do this to any animal, horses or any animal," she said.

Gwen Roberts, who runs Horses for Hope, found the horses Friday after receiving a call from a friend.

Roberts said that friend saw a woman bringing horses to a wooded area near her home over the summer. The horses were hidden in the back part of the woods, so they would not be visible from the road or other houses, she said.

The woman would come late at night to feed the animals, Roberts said, but that woman has not been seen since December.

"They were getting a little concerned because they haven't seen the lady come to take care of the horses, so she wanted somebody who knew horses to come and take a look," Roberts said.

Roberts said she found about six large horses and 15 small horses inside small pens on the property.

"I really expected to see live horses. I had no idea they were going to be dead. I just cried," Roberts said of the moment she discovered the animals. "Some of the horses were laying on top of the other horses, and it was awful."

The Wake County Sheriff's Office said that, prior to being found dead in Wake County, the horses had been last seen alive in Kittrel in Vance County.

"It's hard to imagine," North Carolina State University veterinarian Dr. Callie Fogle said. "Horses can survive a lot longer than other species without food. Water is really the critical thing. Only a few days can a horse survive without water."

Many agree, though, that the deaths didn't have to happen because of the number of horse rescue operations that have reached out since the story broke.

"People are saying 'Oh my God, I'm just so sad over this case, so heartbroken for those horses. I would have helped,'" Federico said.

Roberts, who has run Horses for Hope since 2003, said her facility is located about half a mile from where the dead horses were located.

"All they had to do was ask and we would have been there to help, but they didn't," she said.

Burleson was well-know in horse circles for training miniature horses to work with the blind. She wrote a book about it.

Roberts said her reputation makes the situation even harder to grasp.

"I just want so many answers. I just can't understand why she let this happen," she said.

Authorities said the two rottweiler dogs found on the property were also kept inside a small pen without food and water. While one dog died of starvation, another survived by eating the remains of the deceased animal, according to a warrant.