Wake County woman accused of starving animals was 'horse lover,' wrote book on them

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Janet Burleson is facing 24 counts of animal cruelty.

A woman charged with starving nearly two dozen horses to death in Wake County wrote a book about the equine species.

The book "Helping Hooves: Training Miniature Horses as Guide Animals for the Blind" is available on Amazon.

A close family member who didn't want to be identified told ABC11 that Janet Burleson has loved horses all her life.

"She had the rescue horses, the miniature horses, she did, you know, she was training miniature horses to guide the blind. And the ones that weren't fit for that, she would just take in as pets," the man said.

A DISTURBING DISCOVERY

He said when news of the starvation deaths of 22 horses and one dog broke Friday his wife got an alert on her ABC11 app.

When they looked at the pictures of where the animals were kept on Fanny Brown Road in rural southern Wake County they were stunned.

"We got to looking at the pictures and recognized the property so we reached out the Wake County Sheriff's (Office) to see if we could add any information or give them any help," he said.

The man said that Burleson's parents originally owned the property where the animals were found.

Her father died years ago.

The relative said Burleson was very close to her mother, who died a year ago this month, and that she was extremely upset by her mother's passing.

'FORGOT' THE ANIMALS WERE THERE

Apparently, other family members had no idea she had moved horses from her former home in the Vance County town of Kittrell to the Fanny Brown Road property.

The relative said he contacted Burleson after calling the sheriff' office saying, "When I first asked her did she have horses out there her response was a surprise response like she forgot they were there. And I asked her, 'What happened?' And she told me, 'I forgot they were there.' And I was like, 'How could you possibly forget that many animals?' And she said, 'I don't know. I've been having problems.'"

The heartbreaking story was made even sadder because a horse rescue group is headquartered just a mile away and could have helped care for the animals.

ABC11 asked the family member whether the 64-year old Burleson could have been what animal rescue experts call an "overwhelmed caregiver."

"I find that so hard to believe because she's been in the horse community for so many years; she knows people could help her with it. She knows there are places the horses could have gone," he said.

In court documents, investigators wrote that the animals were all confined to pens and starved to death.

They also wrote that the one Rottweiler dog that survived did so by eating a dead Rottweiler.

Burleson is facing 23 felony charges of killing an animal by starvation and one felony count of animal cruelty.

On Thursday afternoon, in the Wake County courtroom where Burleson faced a judge for the first time, animal lovers held up pictures of horses.

PLEA TO RESERVE JUDGMENT

The family member who spoke to ABC11 said he's as much an animal lover as anyone.

He owns several rescue dogs.

His voice cracked as he talked about the starved animals.

But he asked others to wait to judge.

"I'm probably not as emotionally angry right now as most everybody else is simply because I do know her. And I haven't come to the terms that she did it intentionally," he said. "I would ask that, as horrific as it was, people do reserve their judgement until due process is done. And, you know, until we get the details and the truth."

He said the family has been soul-searching for nearly a week now.

"If she did it intentionally, I'll be the most surprised person on the face of the Earth," he said. "But, that being said, I can't tell you why she did it."
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