Local News

Cary woman pleads guilty in horse starvation case

Posted March 29, 2019 9:48 a.m. EDT
Updated March 29, 2019 2:06 p.m. EDT

— A Cary woman will spend at least three months in prison after 22 horses and a dog were found dead on her family's farm in January.

Janet Elaine Lavender Burleson, of 555 Cross Roads Blvd. in Cary, pleaded guilty Friday to 10 counts of animal cruelty. District Court Judge Robert Rader sentenced her to five to 15 months in prison, but gave her credit for the two months she's already spent behind bars.

Authorities are investigating after at least 20 horses were found dead on a Wake County property

Necropsies determined the animals died of starvation at the farm, on Fanny Brown Road, in the southern part of Wake county.

According to arrest warrants, Burleson deprived 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's attorney said she stopped caring for the animals in December after she got sick. She has had mental health problems since a car accident 16 years ago, the attorney said, and those memory lapses caused her to leave the animals without food or water.

Sarah McDonald of Durham Independent Animal Rescue said it was hard to believe Burleson forgot about the animals.

"How you could forget these animals when you were in the horse business and cared for animals for so many years, that you didn't reach out to another group, to a family member?" McDonald said. "You can't just forget 22 animals and have them starve to death."

Rader expressed similar disbelief, calling Burleson's actions "cruel and inhumane."

“It's hard for me to believe someone who has been around animals their whole life could do this,” the judge said.

Janet Burleson

In addition to her prison sentence, Burleson was fined $800 and will have to pay Wake County Animal Control for the $800 spent clearing the animals from her property. She also was ordered to undergo mental health treatment.

Burleson's parents owned the farm before they died. The land belongs to Burleson and her siblings, but they said they didn't know that the animals were there and not being cared for until they were alerted by authorities.

As part of her sentence, the former professional horse breeder and trainer is not allowed to be around animals while on probation. Animal advocates in court said they wished that ruling could be lifelong.