Horse owner accused of abuse

MSPCA seizes ‘Merlin’ from Tashmoo Farm.

Cape and Islands ADA Matt Palazzolo wanted Maciel's bail revoked. Judge Barnes denied that request. —Screenshot

Laura Maciel, 51, was arraigned on one count of animal cruelty, Thursday based on an allegation she starved a horse and left it in poorly groomed condition. Maciel appeared in person in Edgartown District Court, and pleaded not guilty to the charge.

Prosecutor Matt Palazzolo asked that Maciel’s bail be revoked in an ongoing OUI matter, and an ongoing trespassing and destruction of property matter, because of the new charge. Judge Barnes denied that request, and set Maciel’s bail at $250. She was also ordered to stay away from the horse in question, and from Tashmoo Farm in Tisbury. 

On Oct. 26, Palazzolo told the court, one or more Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) officers responded to Tashmoo Farm in Tisbury for a report of a “skinny horse not being properly taken care of.” Palazzolo identified the horse as Merlin, and noted he was found with “overgrown hooves” and a “thin body,” and was also “quidding,” which he described as “spitting out hay due to [the] poor quality of his teeth.”

Palazzo said a veterinarian was able to score Merlin on the Henneke Horse Body Condition Scoring System, and said an “ideal” score was 5, while a 1 shows emaciation and a 9 denotes obesity. “The horse scored a 2,” Palazzolo said. 

Maciel allegedly, and in “adamant” terms, told authorities she had been taking care of the horse at night, and that’s why nobody saw her at the farm, Palazzolo said.

During another examination of the horse, authorities found “fecal matter built up on the horse’s blanket,” Palazzolo said. This was attributed to “chronic untreated diarrhea.”

Officers eventually obtained a search warrant, Palazzolo said, seized the horse, and charged Maciel.

Palazzolo added Maciel had allegedly gone to the farm during the MSPCA investigation, and “fellow boarders had felt threatened by her presence.” 

While Maciel did appear in court Thursday, Palazzolo said she had “multiple defaults” on her record.

In addition to keeping away from Merlin and the farm, Palazzolo asked that Maciel be ordered not to possess any animals. This was denied. 

Maciel’s attorney for bail purposes, Matt Jackson, requested Maciel either be released on personal recognizance or $200 bail for the abuse charge, and that revocation be denied on the other charges. Jackson said Maciel was under a lot of stress, and cared about Merlin. While Judge Barnes emphasized the records showed that Maciel repeatedly showed up late to court, he nonetheless ruled closely along the lines of what Jackson had asked for. 

Maciel told the court she is deeply fond of Merlin.

“It is noted you love Merlin,” Judge Barnes said.

Maciel is slated to be back in court on March 15. 


    • Where there is smoke there is likely fire. A shame this type of cruel accusation even exists here or elsewhere. Animals are precious and can’t always look out for themselves.

  1. I’m not making a statement on the merits of Laura Maciel’s case here because I don’t know the details, and I don’t know her, but, in any event and for whatever reasons, it is apparent that this horse needed help/intervention or the MSPCA would not have taken the horse upon inspection. This is a reminder to everyone that, even on this small island, there may be animals who are suffering. If you see something, please speak up, please call for help or call someone who knows how or where to get help. If you see a stray cat or dog that you believe is a stray, please try to get it help. Cold winter months are ahead of us. There should be no dog or cat living outside in the winter months.

        • I’m curious if she feels the same way about homeless humans as she does about homeless cats and dogs. It’s an honest question. Sorry if I hurt your feelings.

      • Yes, I do Jim…….. I don’t appreciate such a needlessly antagonistic post like yours, one that directly challenges me for no good reason. The topic here was animals. It’s comments like yours, that carry with them an undercurrent of hostility, and which attack or try to undermine a positive message, that holds people back from commenting in the paper. In the alternative to making a snide remark you could have simply taken a moment to remind people that there are humans living outside in cold winter months if that was your immediate issue. On social media I have the luxury of blocking someone like you. I don’t have the luxury here. Please don’t bother me again with your unpleasantries.

  2. The Article fails to Mention that Merlin is almost 30 years old. Why didn’t anyone reach out sooner. My understanding is that the boarders take turn feeding so why did this happen? So many questions. I would have helped if I was contacted.

  3. These “fellow boarders” who were apparently “threatened by her presence”, appear not to have been “threatened” by witnessing this horse slide down the Henneke System to a 2 score.
    I guess reaching a 5 or even a 4, was still not enough to report what was going on in the next stall.
    These other “equestrians” have a lot to answer for, standing by silently as Merlin reached a 2!

    • Why would anyone call if Merlin reached a 5? The article states a 5 is considered ideal on Henneke system.
      But at least you didn’t bring up the TPD…

  4. “The greatness of a society is judged by the way the animals are treated.” ~ Gandhi

    Even on an Island called Martha’s Vineyard.

  5. Disgraceful- no other word for it. Animal mistreatment is the lowest of the low. A shame the judge seems so insistent on wrist slapping.

  6. Back to Jessica Burnham’s original question, does anyone know where Merlin is or if there is a fund to assist in his recovery expenses?

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