Finocchio: Buyer beware on Bonniedale Farm

Finocchio: Buyer beware on Bonniedale Farm

Bonniedale Farm has been the source of several complaints and allegations over the years, though none have resulted in criminal conviction. (Breeze photo by Jackie Roman)

GLOCESTER – The head of the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is warning people against sending animals to Dan McKenzie and Bonniedale Farm.

E. J. Finocchio, president of the RISPCA, told The Valley Breeze & Observer he’s still unclear how McKenzie wasn’t convicted on animal cruelty charges five years ago.

Though none of the allegations against McKenzie have resulted in convictions, Finocchio’s advice regarding Bonniedale Farm is, “Let the buyer beware.”

McKenzie this week fired back at Finocchio, saying accusations against him are wrong.

“We’re trying to do a good thing here,” McKenzie said, maintaining his innocence against allegations of neglect.

“I was falsely and wrongly accused,” he said. “It was proven in court.”

Following an article two weeks ago announcing the reopening of Bonniedale Farm, now located at 948 Putnam Pike in Chepachet, several animal rights advocates raised concerns about McKenzie and his practices.

According to the RISPCA, the farm has been the source of several complaints over the years.

Joe Warzycha, the RISPCA’s animal cruelty investigator, said he has received a number of complaints about the conditions of Bonniedale Farm in the course of his eight years on the job.

“While we have found on most occasions that conditions were less than ideal, there was insufficient evidence to warrant criminal charges,” he said.

McKenzie was charged with one count of mistreatment of animals in 2012. The case went to trial and Mckenzie was found not guilty.

According to the complainant, a chestnut thoroughbred horse on the property had been progressively losing weight since its arrival in May of that year. The complainant also expressed concerns about a sheep, llama, pig, and two goats on the property.

“I honestly do not know why the trial judge did not convict him of animal cruelty with the facts we had,” said Finocchio.

“The rules and regulations in the state of Rhode Island are very lax,” he added. “I think the court system ... does not look at cases of animal cruelty as very serious.”

However, he added that individual judges have made more promising rulings in recent years.

In March of 2013, McKenzie faced accusations that he mistreated a potbellied pig named Delilah. Finocchio said then that the pig was not being adequately fed and needed to be kept in a warmer environment. McKenzie faced renewed allegations then that he wasn’t using the donations he was collecting to feed and care for the animals on the farm.

The latest version of Bonniedale Farm may need to amend its mission statement to comply with Rhode Island regulations, according to State Veterinarian Scott Marshall.

McKenzie has stated that the farm works to “rescue, rehab, and place animals,” but Marshall said McKenzie is not licensed to do that work.

“If they are in the business of adopting animals out, they are required to have a license,” Marshall said. He confirmed Bonniedale Farm does not have that required license.

If McKenzie is taking in animals originating in Rhode Island that are not going to new homes, more akin to an animal sanctuary, then that activity does not require a license, said Marshall.

McKenzie founded his nonprofit in 2001 with a mission to provide animals in need with food, medicine, and care. One of his efforts over the years was to provide a dog and cat food bank for local residents having a hard time paying for pet food.

McKenzie, a former crisis/intervention counselor for the state of Massachusetts and a onetime home builder, was evicted from his farm back in 2009. Even then he faced detractors who accused him of taking in more animals than he could properly care for.

He said in 2011 that he was implementing a better system of rescue care for animals. He vowed then that every cent of donations he collected went to that intended purpose.

At the time of the 2009 foreclosure, animal rights advocates gathered at Bonniedale Farm said it was clear that animals had not been fed the previous night.

The town animal control officer, Michael Merchant, was quoted at the time as saying he “saw frozen water in outside troughs and no food or water inside.”

Finocchio said then that he couldn’t file any immediate charges of neglect because he had not seen specific evidence of cruelty.

“Unfortunately, I probably have to go back and wait for an animal to die before I act,” he said then, lamenting Rhode Island’s weak animal cruelty laws.