Elbert County residents charged with animal cruelty get probation

A malnourished miniature horse was one of several ill animals found on property owned by David St. Antoine and Christie O'Rourke in Elbert County in February 2013. The couple received five years of probation. Courtesy photo
By Chris Michlewicz
Posted

Animals found on the property during the February 2013 inspection: eight horses, two miniature horses, two donkeys, 15 full-grown dogs, seven puppies, six full-grown cats, four kittens, two birds, one potbellied pig, numerous goats and numerous poultry.

Two Elbert County residents were sentenced to five years of probation for two charges of second-degree cruelty to animals.

Christie O'Rourke, 56, and David St. Antoine, 60, reached a plea agreement in March and were sentenced July 21 by Elbert County Court Judge Jeffrey K. Holmes. They also received 90 days of in-home detention, a $1,000 fine each, plus restitution totaling around $2,000.

O'Rourke and St. Antoine were already on probation for similar offenses when deputies from the Elbert County Sheriff's Office responded to their property in February 2013 on a report of a dead llama.

The deputies discovered more than 50 animals living in "horrendous, heart-breaking conditions," 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler said. O'Rourke and St. Antoine told authorities they didn't know how the llama died.

After inspecting the llama, "one of the officers saw a dog running with the lower half of a horse's leg in its mouth," the DA's office said in a statement. The pair told law enforcement that the horse's name was Roy and that he had died and been fed to the dogs.

The remaining horses were skeletal and had no access to food or water. A goat was found with a gaping, untreated wound on its shoulder. Two dead kittens were found in bags in a freezer, and a puppy and a kitten that appeared sick and dehydrated had to be immediately removed for treatment.

Law enforcement was familiar with O'Rourke and St. Antoine. The Colorado Humane Society, Denver Dumb Friends League, Colorado Department of Agriculture and the sheriff's office seized several malnourished horses from the property in 2011. They pleaded guilty in November 2012 to misdemeanor charges "for the same type of inaction," said deputy district attorney Justie Dee Coyne, and were barred from acquiring more animals. They violated their probation by acquiring seven new puppies.

The charges the two were sentenced for are class-6 felonies, but Coyne said "jail in these types of cases is rare." The pair had no criminal history or prior felonies, and there was an absence of affirmative abuse or malicious intent, she said. Furthermore, St. Antoine is in poor physical health. Coyne said the 18th Judicial District's main priority was to get he and O'Rourke mental health treatment.

There are small animals still on the property, but it has been routinely inspected and the animals are "improving in health," Coyne said.

For the next 18 months to five years, O'Rourke and St. Antoine are prohibited from having more than three dogs, three cats and six birds. They must comply with those limitations within 21 days and spay and neuter all remaining animals.

Coyne said O'Rourke and St. Antoine will be monitored and cautioned that any future slip-up could result in "significant" jail time.