Hilton Head resident given chance to make property improvements to avoid animal charges

bheffernan@islandpacket.comApril 26, 2013 

A Hilton Head resident who faces 17 misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty will get more time to improve the living conditions for animals on his property.

If Michel Cohen Jr. does so, the citations for failing to provide clean drinking water and adequate shelter for some of the horses, dogs and pigs he keeps near Spanish Wells Road could be dismissed.

Cohen and the Town of Hilton Head Island asked the Municipal Court to delay a ruling for 60 days, the second time such a request has been made and granted since the citations were written in November by the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.

A new court date was set for June 28.

Since the sides last met in court 60 days earlier, Cohen has made "significant progress" toward improving the animals' living conditions, according to town attorney Brian Hulbert. Cohen has built new dog houses and regularly provides the animals with clean water, he said.

Improvements still needed include repairs for two dog houses and shelters for horses and pigs.

Sheriff's deputies will check on the conditions at Cohen's property every two weeks on dates announced at the trial. If Cohen makes the improvements and continues to provide the animals with clean water, the charges likely will be dropped, Hulbert said.

Cohen and his father, Michael Cohen Sr., face additional penalties for failing to follow the court's instructions to make improvements on the property and report those to the court following a 2011 conviction on similar charges. Those penalties also would be dropped if Cohen complies.

"It'll be a good resolution," said attorney Tabor Vaux, who represented Cohen Jr. on Friday.

The Cohens keep several animals on their small farm, including seven horses -- six of which are marsh tackies -- 23 pigs and eight hound dogs that Cohen Jr. said he uses to hunt raccoons and rabbits.

Residents of neighboring Summerfield Villas have complained about the animals' noise and smell several times. One of their complaints brought the sheriff's deputies who issued the citations in November.

Town staff attorney Brian Hulbert said he was not aware of any complaints about the Cohen property since then. Sheriff's Office records that would indicate whether officers have been called back to the Cohen property were not immediately available Friday.

Follow reporter Brian Heffernan at twitter.com/IPBG_Brian.

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