WOODSTOCK – A horse’s halter was on so tight and for so long that its skin and bone had begun to grow around it, requiring surgical removal, investigators say.
A prominent McHenry County lawyer appeared in court for the first time Wednesday since he and another person were charged with felony cruelty to animals.
James G. Militello Jr., 69, and Kelly D. Militello, 55, both of 3111 N. Queen Anne Road in Woodstock, were charged May 23 with aggravated cruelty to animals, a Class 4 felony punishable by a maximum of three years in prison.
“The halter was extremely embedded in the pony’s head and face,” said Hillary Clark, an investigator with the Woodstock-based Hooved Animal Humane Society. “You could tell it was in there for quite a long time. It was completely grown over.”
According to the criminal complaint, a previous owner advised them to replace the halter that was too small, but they failed to do so. Leaving it on caused the halter to grow into the animal, a pinto-colored Falabella miniature horse, and it suffered serious face, neck and head injuries.
Carol Swinford of Hebron owns the rare breed miniature horse. She said she gave the horse to the Militellos to be a companion horse for another that they own. The Militellos didn’t buy the horse, nor were they given paperwork so they could sell it, Swinford said. The pair had the horse for a year before James Militello called to have Swinford take it back, she said. That’s when she saw the injuries.
“You can’t imagine the excruciating pain that that little baby had to go through that whole time,” Swinford said. “Any time she moved her mouth to try to eat, she had this thing digging into her head.”
Outside the courtroom, Kelly Militello’s attorney, Henry Sugden, said his client was out of town and not aware of the horse’s injuries.
James Militello’s attorney, William Caldwell, was equally as confident.
“We expect to mount a successful defense,” Caldwell said but declined to comment further.
Before starting Militello and Associates law firm, James Militello Jr. was a partner at the now-named Zanck, Coen, Wright and Saladin.
On Wednesday, Judge Sharon Prather modified the pair’s bond to allow them to travel out of state.
The Militellos’ next court date is June 21.