Woman pleads not guilty to animal cruelty

Mary Bernadette Schwenn could face nine years in prison

Mary Bernadette Schwenn plead not guilty to 30 counts of failing to provide proper care and attention to the animals on her Sky Valley property.

Authorities charge her with willfully subjecting her dogs and puppies to needless suffering. Many of the dogs died.

Schwenn's bail was set at 55 thousand dollars, and if she should bail out, the court ordered her not to have any contact with animals.

The charges come after a months-long investigation into the conditions on Schwenn's property in Sky Valley.

A coalition of animal lovers was at the arraignment in an Indio courtroom Monday. They are pleased that Schwenn will not be allowed around animals while the case is ongoing.

"Bernadette Schwenn is an animal abuser," Shelley Rizzotti, of Animal Protectorates, said. "She has a history of abusing animals that spans at least two to three decades. We believe that she's responsible for the deaths of thousands of animals."

Animal lover Kitty Pallesen says she saw animals suffering in the heat on Schwenn's property with no food or water. She says she got a few dogs out, and would make phone calls every day trying to get help to rescue more dogs.

"I was trying to help. It was just out of control," Palleson said outside the court room. "There were so many dogs. And more and more all the time being born."

Rizzotti described Schwenn as, "An animal hoarder, to the 'nth' degree."

"I don't think she has the capacity to care for animals," Rizzotti said.  "And above and beyond that, no empathy and no capacity to realize her treatment of animals is torture."

It was Pallesen who helped bring attention to the situation. Last week, Riverside County Animal Control rescued 10 dogs that are now in protective custody in a county shelter, but Pallesen still feels for the puppies that couldn't be saved.

"I was hearing their crying everyday. Listening to them die," Pallesen said. "I was trying to get people to come. Nobody would come. The last day I walked up there. I thought animal control was coming.   I didn't hear anybody crying. I thought maybe they had come and got the puppies. No. I got up there and they were all dead. All dead."

If convicted, Schwenn faces a possible sentence of probation up to nine years behind bars. She is next due in court on August 1st for a bail review.

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