Bail kept at $50k for Sky Valley woman charged with animal cruelty

INDIO, Calif. - A judge today kept bail at $50,000 for a 64-year-old Sky Valley woman charged with animal cruelty for allegedly neglecting dogs on her property.

Mary Bernadette Schwenn was arrested at the Indio branch of the Riverside County Law Library on July 25 on 30 animal cruelty-related counts filed by the Riverside County District Attorney's Office. She pleaded not guilty Monday.

At a bail review hearing today, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Ronald L. Johnson kept Schwenn's bail at the previously set amount of $50,000 and denied her attorney's request that she be released on her own recognizance. The judge reiterated that Schwenn must not have contact with animals if she posts bail. She is due back in court Wednesday for a felony settlement conference.

Schwenn is charged with 10 felony and 20 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty and failure to provide proper care or attention for animals. She could face a sentence ranging from probation to nine years in custody if convicted, prosecutors said.

County Animal Services officers seized 10 dogs on Schwenn's property last week, District Attorney's spokesman John Hall said. Animal Services spokesman John Welsh said the dogs were in protective custody in a non-public area at one of the county's shelters.

The investigation into Schwenn's activities started in April, when the Animal Services department got information about more than 30 dogs living unattended and abandoned on Schwenn's property near Thousand Palms Canyon and Dillon roads.

``During the subsequent investigation, numerous puppies and adult dogs were found to be either suffering or deceased,'' Hall said.

Schwenn was ticketed or told by Animal Services officers to treat the dogs humanely or get them veterinary care, ``yet she neglected to do so,'' Hall said.

According to a declaration in support of last week's arrest, a woman told Animal Control Officer Rita Gutierrez in late June that she saw dead and dying dogs on Schwenn's property, and ``thought more would succumb that day because of the extreme heat.''

One dog was found with a gash on its hip, Gutierrez wrote.

``Litters of pups suffered and died. ... Ms. Schwenn refused to improve the living conditions for her animals. Ms. Schwenn also ignored follow-up instructions given by her vet, allowing her dog to suffer,'' Gutierrez alleged.

Kitty Pallesen, who has known Schwenn for at least five years, wrote in a statement to officials in May that she drove to the property one day in April and saw roughly 30 dogs ``with not a drop of water or bite of food anywhere.''

``I started going up almost every day and then every day for the past 1 1/2 weeks, because every time I went up there, the food and water would be completely gone,'' she wrote. ``There were many days in a row that it was over 100. I could not tell when I went back up that Bernadette or anyone had been there at all.''

A few weeks later, Pallesen said she went to feed the dogs because it again appeared they had not been fed or given water.

``There are not enough bowls to do this up there in the camp, and when the food goes down, there is lots of scrambling and fighting. They are really hungry, and they fight over who gets to eat first or at all,'' Pallesen wrote.

Welsh said Schwenn had been ticketed for having unlicensed dogs without required vaccinations and not having a kennel permit. Animal Services officers monitored the property for several months, Hall said.

Schwenn also was arrested July 1 at her property on suspicion of misdemeanor animal cruelty and posted a $2,500 bond. She is facing two misdemeanor counts in that case.

According to a declaration in support of Schwenn's July 1 arrest, one of her dogs had an infection and was euthanized in May, authorities said.

Welsh said that Animal Services officers would keep checking Schwenn's property for dogs.

``The property does not have proper fencing and, for years, the dogs have been allowed to freely roam the open desert,'' he said.

At Schwenn's arraignment, Johnson dismissed municipal code violations against her, citing lack of prosecution.

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