Equine Rescue

Michigan Woman who starved 3 horses to death ordered to jail


 A woman who starved to death three horses received a two-month jail sentence and a stern lecture from the judge.

Bobbi Jo VanKoevering sits after her sentencing hearing at the Muskegon county court house, in Muskegon on Friday. Nov. 22, 2019. photo by Kayla Renie | MLive.com

Bobbi Jo VanKoevering, 43, of Ravenna was sentenced Friday, Nov. 22, after pleading no contest to felony animal abandonment/cruelty. Her sentence includes three years of probation during which time she cannot have any animals where she lives.

VanKoevering was convicted in 2006 of misdemeanor animal cruelty.

In addition to the dead horses, authorities removed two horses and a calf from VanKoevering’s care that were emaciated, authorities said earlier.

The felony charge carries a maximum two-year prison term, but in this case the sentencing guidelines were zero to six months in jail, said Muskegon County Circuit Judge Annette Smedley.

Smedley told VanKoevering that the guidelines “don’t even come close to what is deserved for taking a life.” However, Smedley also said she didn’t believe that jailing VanKoevering would do anything to help the next animal that is in her care because it won’t change her behavior.

She initially ordered VanKoevering not to own or possess animals during her three years on probation. However, she amended that later to include not having animals where she lives. That came after discussion about what to do with animals remaining on VanKoevering’s property during which the defendant claimed the animals were her boyfriend’s and not hers.

Smedley ordered the animals to be surrendered.

Authorities were summoned to VanKoevering’s property by a former roommate, authorities said earlier. There they discovered no feed for the starving animals other than hay and water buckets that were frozen solid, Muskegon County Assistant Prosecutor Katherine Matlock told the judge.

“They quite frankly were on the brink of death,” Matlock told Smedley about the animals that were removed.

While VanKoevering was aware of the condition of the suffering animals, she claimed it was someone else’s responsibility to care for them, Matlock said.

“What I don’t see is any ownership by the defendant’s part in that knowledge of what was going on,” she said.

On “multiple occasions,” VanKoevering asked an individual to shoot and kill one of the starving horses that was rescued because she knew how much it was suffering, Matlock said.

In a lengthy statement, defense attorney Paula Mathes told Smedley that VanKoevering is taking responsibility and has gotten help for “physical and psychological issues.”

“She does have a big heart that has a soft spot for animals,” Mathes said.

But VanKoevering’s health issues, financial constraints and a rough winter last year created a “perfect storm” that led to the animals’ suffering, she said.

But Smedley didn’t buy in to what Mathes said.

“Nature, health, finances – none of that brought about the deaths of these animals,” the judge told VanKoevering. “What brought the deaths of these animals is you not taking on the responsibility that was given to you.”

She said rather than call someone to come and euthanize the suffering horse, VanKoevering could have called 911 to ask for help.

“You did nothing, you did absolutely nothing and let these horses starve,” Smedley said.

Furthermore, the judge said that because there were healthy animals on the property, it was obvious that VanKoevering was favoring some over others.

“There was food for some and not for others,” Smedley said. “It was like you have one child you like and one you don’t and you choose to take care of one and not the other.”

VanKoevering, then using the last name Harris, pleaded no contest to misdemeanor animal neglect in 2006 in a case that resulted in five horses being removed from her custody, according to court records.

VanKoevering told MLive earlier that all the animals involved in both the criminal cases had been “dumped” on her property.

“These were rescue horses that were sick,” she said. “We tried the best we could.”

Nancy Smith of Points North Horse Rescue took the two horses and calf from VanKoevering’s property. One, a Mustang mare that had aborted a fetus, was the one that VanKoevering had tried to have killed, Smith said. The horse is now at Smith’s farm and doing well, she said.

She said she believes VanKoevering “loves the animals” but is incapable of providing them suitable care. Smith also said she was “pleased” with the sentence Smedley handed down, saying some incarceration was appropriate.

Smith previously was involved in rescuing eight starving horses from a Muskegon County boarding facility owned by Krystal Smith, who was sentenced earlier this year to 45 days in jail.

Nancy Smith has been involved in rescues of starving horses from around the state as part of what she said is a growing problem. She cited high feed prices as part of the issue.

“There’s a huge situation statewide right now with seeing more neglect of horses in particular,” Nancy Smith said.

9 replies »

  1. So since 2006 & 2019 – there were NO problems with her animals? Or possibly no one cared enough to see it! Quite honestly, 3 years of probation & no jail time plus she is not supposed to have animals seems pretty mild to me. I’d feel better if there was actual oversight at the least while shes on probation, but that sounds doubtful.

    Liked by 2 people

    • After reading the original article – she did receive 2 months jail time, on top of the 3 years probation. Enough? Doubtful it will change her attitude towards animals.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. In 2011, BLM sold 29 wild mares and geldings to a woman in Michigan for $25 each plus we tax-payers paid to ship them from California to this woman in Michigan. Within a few months some of the horses were dead, some were skin and bones from lack of food and although the woman was questioned by law enforcement about the animal abuse … she was eventually not arrested.




    “For the first time, a national law has been passed by Congress to protect animals from cruelty and abuse,” said Republican Congressman Vern Buchanan, who along with Ted Deutch, a Democrat, was instrumental in getting the bill through the House.

    While there are state laws across the country that cover animal welfare and cruelty, the new federal law fills what Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, calls “a gap in a law.”

    “We cannot change the horrors of what animals have endured in the past, but we can crack down on these crimes moving forward. This is a day to celebrate,” Amundson said in a statement.

    “I’m grateful to see the PACT Act finally signed into law. The barbaric torture of animals has no place in a civilized society and should be a crime—and thanks to this new law, now it is,” said Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal. Blumenthal pushed the bill through the Senate with co-sponsor Republican Pat Toome.

    And as some have also pointed out, animal violence is an oft-overlooked factor associated with interpersonal violence.

    For example, a study published in 2008 found that 57 percent of domestic abuse victims reported a pet being abused or even killed by the perpetrators. Another, published in 2013, found that 43 percent of school shooters had committed acts of animal cruelty. It’s a connection frequently referred to as “the link.”

    “Given the undeniable link between cruelty to animals and interpersonal violence, it is vital that animal abuse, as well as its gratuitous depictions, be stamped out at every turn,” said Williamson.

    “Research shows that individuals who derive pleasure from inflicting violence towards animals often don’t stop with animals and these individuals pose a serious threat to society.”

    However, Williamson said that while a “step in the right direction,” the Pact Act “doesn’t go nearly far enough.”

    “The PACT Act could be made far stronger by removing exemptions for animals killed for food, sport or those used in scientific research, given the vast majority of cruelty to animals takes place in the agricultural and scientific sectors.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I disagree with the judge. This human being doesn’t deserve to walk among us and breath air. She should go to prison for starving the horses and NEVER be allowed to own any animal again. She is not being held accountable for the cruelty, neglect, and inhumanity she forced upon these horses. She deserves way more than the slap on the hand the judge gave her.

    Liked by 1 person

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