Ten months after being convicted of misdemeanor animal cruelty, Louis Silva was sentenced Thursday to three years court probation and 300 hours of community service.
Silva agreed to drop a claim for animals that had been seized from his Big Oak Valley property and must complete a course in animal care before a judge decides whether he should be subject to a five-year ban on any ownership of animals.
Nevada County Animal Control had removed 21 animals from Silva’s Patino Road property, west of Penn Valley, in March 2011 after a report of a dead llama. Officers said they found a number of animals in poor condition with no food or water; one llama was euthanized the following day.
Silva was tried on three felony counts and two misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty; jurors found Silva guilty of the two misdemeanors but were split on the felony charges.
Since that March 2012 verdict, the fate of Silva’s animals — as well as restitution due to Nevada County Animal Control and Sammie’s Friends, which runs the animal shelter — has been the source of continued legal wrangling.
Silva’s attorney, Stephen Munkelt, and Nevada County Deputy District Attorney Oliver Pong reached a agreement that any animals not named in the charges would be returned to Silva, and the court issued an order to that effect.
Sammie’s Friends attorney Jill Telfer objected to the proposed order, alleging that the group has spent nearly $4,000 to care for the animals and that Silva had not provided any funds for the animals’ care. Judge R.M. Smith ruled the nonprofit group had the legal authority to be a party in the case; however, he reversed his ruling in November.
On Thursday, Silva agreed to forfeit his claim on the animals that remained at Sammie’s Friends, and the shelter and Animal Control agreed to waive their claims for reimbursement.
Smith noted that Silva had been grossly negligent but said he was not intentionally harming his animals before sentencing him to 30 days in jail and three years probation. Silva’s jail term was suspended on condition that he not violate probation. He also must complete his community service by February 2014.
Smith initially imposed a condition that Silva not possess more than four animals before addressing the question of whether his conviction for animal cruelty prohibits him from owning any animals for a period of five years. Silva testified that he currently has a donkey, three dogs and a cockatoo and is pet-sitting a fourth dog.
A neighbor testified to a number of incidents involving alleged animal neglect by Silva; one of those involved a baby goat that had sustained a severe head injury and that ended up being euthanized.
Nevada County Animal Control officer Dan Whitaker testified that his department had been called out to Silva’s property seven times between 2007 and October 2010. Animal Control had been out twice in 2010 — once in June for donkeys that allegedly were without water and again in October for some downed calves, which were turned over by Silva.
Defense witnesses included a veterinary pathologist, who testified that he believed Silva could care for animals but that his property probably could not support the number and mix of animals that he had in March 2011. A forensic psychologist testified that he had evaluated Silva and found no underlying psychological difficulties, calling him “completely normal.”
Pong said he did not believe Silva intentionally harmed his animals but argued that the defense that he had been affected by a divorce and the death of a beloved dog was inadequate.
“Mr. Silva may have experienced life changes, but how will he respond when other life issues come up?” Pong asked.
Smith then turned to the five-year ban, saying that he could lift it if he found Silva was not a danger to animals and had the ability to care for animals; he said that he could make those findings if the number and variety of animals was limited. But he said that Silva needed to complete counseling, which had not happened.
Smith ordered Silva to complete a course in the feeding and care of the types of animals he wants to possess, and put the matter over for review until March 26.
In the meantime, Smith said, Silva must find a home for the animals he currently has within seven days.
Sammie’s Friends founder Cheryl Wicks expressed satisfaction with the rulings after the hearing.
“I did not want any animals returned to him, so I’m happy with that,” she said, adding, “I think the course (requirement) is excellent.”
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4229.