By Dawn Hodson
Shingle Springs veterinarian Dr. Dean Bader will be held over for trial it was decided at a July 22 preliminary hearing in El Dorado County Superior Court Judge Daniel Proud’s courtroom.
Bader faces three counts of cruelty to animals and failure to report animal abuse or cruelty in connection with the arrest and conviction of Alma and Charel Winston. The Winstons were evicted from their rented property in Shingle Springs May 2, 2019, with more than 300 animals removed by El Dorado County Animal Services.
In January of this year the couple pleaded guilty to multiple accounts of felony animal cruelty as well as injury to an elder adult. Those animals included 12 birds, 27 cats, 153 dogs, 70 pigeons, five chickens, 14 ducks, one goose, five goats, nine exotic animals (lizards and fish), 20 horses and two alpacas.
Twenty-two dead animals were found in refrigerators and freezers on the property. Some of the removed animals had to be euthanized later due to poor health.
Three witnesses testified at Bader’s hearing: Capt. Alexis Shaw and field officer Deb Burge with Animal Services and James Peterson, an investigator with the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office. All three were present when the Winstons were served with an eviction notice and the animals removed from the rental property.
Shaw described the property as including a large, two-story home, a barn and a trailer. Charel Winston lived upstairs in the house while Alma Winston (Charel’s wife) lived in the trailer along with her elderly mother and seven birds, 14 cats, 59 dogs and a fish tank.
Describing the conditions in which the animals were kept, Shaw noted they were kenneled in stacked cages without food and water. The cages themselves were filled with urine, feces, dirt, cobwebs and mold. Urine and feces were also on the walls of the two-story house. A litter box for the cats had several inches of solid litter loaded with urine, which Shaw said would take a couple of years to accumulate.
The animals were described as emaciated, extremely dirty and many had torn mouths from chewing on their cages. Shaw testified she believed the animals chewed on the cages and even the walls out of hunger and boredom. Some of the animals also had serious medical conditions.
One horse in particular was discussed during the hearing. A pony called Tin Cup had been treated repeatedly by Dr. Bader. The pony had a missing leg due to an injury. The Animal Services officers testified they were limited in what they could do because they were advised in 2012 that the animal was under the care of Bader. In 2017 they requested proof from Bader that he had examined Tin Cup but said they never received a report.
At one point the horse was brought to Dr. Bader’s office and put in a back room for six months, according to testimony. Later Bader and another vet advised that Tin Cup be euthanized but the Winstons refused. When the Winstons were removed from the property in 2019, Tin Cup was euthanized on the scene. Another horse also had to be euthanized later despite receiving emergency care.
Bader and the Winstons
During the hearing it was established that Bader was the veterinarian of record dating back to at least 2013, according to Animal Services. Shaw testified that an Animal Services officer talked to Bader on June 1, 2012, and he told the officer all the animals were in good condition. She also said Bader told the agency he was responsible for the animals on the property.
Shaw said she responded to the Winstons’ property approximately 20 times due to multiple complaints about the number and poor condition of the animals. She said it was no secret “this was a problem residence” and Animal Services had received complaints about the Winstons beginning in 2012.
Shaw admitted Animal Services relied on Dr. Bader’s assessment as to the health of the animals since the authorities weren’t given access to the homes where the animals were kept.
On one visit to the property in February 2016, Shaw testified that Bader met her at the gate and told her the dogs were healthy and would be vaccinated, adding there was no need for officers to come into the homes. Shaw said the doctor did show her papers indicating he vaccinated approximately 60 dogs. She told the court the veterinarian said he didn’t vaccinate all the dogs because some weren’t healthy enough.
Burge testified she had contact with Charel Winston beginning in 2012 after receiving complaints about the animals’ treatment. She noted there were complaints about Charel Winston’s treatment of her dogs at another property as well.
Burge said both Charel and Bader confirmed he was the Winstons’ vet.
Burge said Animal Services staff was on the property at least 50 times, calling the conditions deplorable. She said Bader never interfered with them being there but the Winstons did. She testified there were frequent calls by neighbors about Tin Cup and that both she and Shaw visited Bader’s clinic when Tin Cup was housed there. She said Bader even paid for a farrier to trim the horses’ hooves.
Burge visited the property in February 2016 regarding a complaint about the condition of the horses, testifying that Animal Services officers found dirty or no water for the horses, dirty stalls and poor living conditions. The Winstons were given notice of a violation and officials revisited the property in March.
Investigator Peterson testified he was at the Winstons’ property on May 2 when they were evicted and videotaped the insides of the buildings. He also interviewed several of Bader’s ex-employees.
He shared that several said they were confused by the nature of the relationship between Bader and the Winstons as the Winstons continually brought animals in deplorable conditions into the clinic. They described the dogs as dirty and displaying kennel behavior caused by confinement. Some dogs looked like they had broken bones that had not been correctly set so the animals couldn’t properly walk.
Peterson told the court that former employees also said Charel Winston was allowed unlimited access to the clinic and supplies and never paid for anything, including medication; they were told she was allowed to take whatever she wanted without payment.
The investigator also said Bader’s staff told him that when Tin Cup was brought to the clinic the pony was in poor health, filthy and emaciated and the stump where his leg had been amputated was rotting flesh. When one of them asked Bader if the pony should be euthanized, Peterson testified, he told her it was “none of her damn business.”
Peterson said he also interviewed Gabrielle Kirby, Bader’s former clinic manager, who told him the Winstons brought 100 to 150 different animals to the clinic when she worked there. The investigator shared that Kirby described the animals as dirty, smelly, covered in urine and feces and in poor health; she advised reporting the Winstons but Bader reportedly said if they were reported he wouldn’t get funding for his clinic.
Relaying Kirby’s statements, Peterson said Bader went to the Winstons’ property once a month but years earlier had gone out more frequently. She also told the investigator Bader always acted with care toward the animals.
A neighbor of the Winstons was also interviewed. Peterson said he complained of the noise and smell from the property plus all the flies. The neighbor reported the horses were left out in the rain and uncared for and the stalls were so muddy and dirty the horses didn’t have a dry place to lie down. according to the investigator’s testimony.
A search warrant was served on Bader’s Shingle Springs clinic May 17, 2019. Shaw said during the search they found mail from AT&T for Alma Winston’s mother but addressed to Bader’s clinic. They also found an account for Charel Winston listing charges of $81,000 and a check from Bader to Charel for $1,500 dated from 2015.
Other documents found on the Shingle Springs ranch had Dr. Bader’s signature on them, Shaw testified, and there were also multiple bottles of prescription drugs on the property from Bader’s clinic. The dates on the bottles ranged from 2011 to 2019.
A blind eye?
In her summary, deputy district attorney April Flores pointed out that Bader turned a blind eye to the animal cruelty. Citing the strange relationship between the couple and Bader, she listed the continual bringing of animals to his clinic in poor condition, the $81,000 bill the Winstons owed, their taking of supplies and drugs without paying for them and Bader paying for the farrier.
Between the strong smell from the confined animals, poor condition they were in and deformities, Flores maintained, there is no way he could have been unaware of what was going on.
“His failure to act resulted in years of pain and suffering on the part of the animals,” Flores said.
Bader’s attorney Dain Weiner said Bader did his job of treating the animals and that both Bader and Animal Services were aware of the horrible conditions that existed. Weiner maintained that Bader believed Animal Services already knew about those conditions, saying there is no evidence he did anything inappropriate with Tin Cup and there is no evidence Bader prevented Animal Services from doing its job.
Flores responded by saying Bader should have reported the Winstons instead of blaming Animal Services as they relied on Bader’s judgment about the condition of the animals. She also maintained that Bader continued to be involved with the Winstons even after they were evicted from the property and the condition of the animals was known.
Ruling on the matter, Judge Proud decided Bader had to have been aware of the situation and chose to be complacent about the level of animal cruelty given the number of animals brought to his clinic in bad condition. He set the date for Bader’s arraignment — 9 a.m. Sept. 4 in Department 2. At that time Bader will have the opportunity to plead guilty or not guilty and, if he pleads not guilty, a trial date will be set.
Originally posted on Mountain Democrat