A Jan. 14 preliminary hearing date was set on Tuesday for a 65-year-old Sky Valley woman charged with animal cruelty for allegedly neglecting more than two dozen dogs on her property.
The hearing will determine if there is enough evidence for Mary Bernadette Schwenn to proceed to trial on 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, according to prosecutors.
Schwenn, who is being held in lieu of $50,000 bail, was arrested at the
Indio branch of the Riverside County Law Library on July 25. That month, county
Animal Services officers seized about a dozen dogs from the defendant's
property and took them to one of the county's shelters.
The investigation into Schwenn's activities started several months
earlier, when the Animal Services department got a tip that more than 30 dogs
were 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,'' Riverside County District
Attorney's Office spokesman John 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
According to a declaration filed in support of an arrest warrant, 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.''
``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, said in a
sworn statement 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 (degrees). 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 tend 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.
Animal Services spokesman John 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,
Schwenn is also facing two misdemeanor charges stemming from a July 1
arrest at her property on suspicion of animal cruelty.