MINNESOTA -- Officials removed 55 horses, ponies, mules and donkeys from a Fillmore County farm this week, in what an official says may be the largest equine confiscation in an animal cruelty case in Minnesota.
By Friday, four of the horses had been euthanized because of their extremely poor health conditions.
Several more animals may also have to be euthanized as the health of the remaining horses is determined, said senior Animal Humane Society Agent Keith Streff, who described this as the largest equine investigation that he's worked on in 25 years.
Authorities found the animals suffering from untreated wounds, severe emaciation and other health issues as well as numerous carcasses in various states of decomposition, after an anonymous complaint about the property.
"It was an ongoing investigation, but it got to the point where we had to take action," said Capt. John DeGeorge of the Fillmore County Sheriff's Office, which has had prior contact with the animals' owner.
The animals' owner has not been taken into custody or charged. The Animal Humane Society and Fillmore County Sheriff's Office are expected to complete their investigations and turn their findings over to the Fillmore County Attorney by late next week to determine what, if any, criminal charges will be issued.
|A young but very underweight Hackeny pony |
stands in a pen at the Fillmore County Fairgrounds.
Between 70 and 80 animals were on the property at the start of the investigation, but the owner was able to maneuver some off the property before authorities began confiscating them, Streff said.
"They were eating each others' tail hair to survive," said Candy Phillips of Truhaven Ranch in Winsted, Minn., one of the horse rescue organizations called on to transport, treat, care for and place the animals.
"It was a small acreage and they had eaten everything down to the dirt," she said. "They even ate the roots."
The 12 animals in the most acute condition were taken to the University of Minnesota Large Animal Hospital in St. Paul for treatment and forensic examination, where four were euthanized. The rest were taken to the Fillmore County Fairgrounds for temporary shelter before being transported to various ranches and agencies.
Although the owner is the one being investigated, Phillips said the problems with the animals often started before he took custody of them.
|A horse showing numerous bite marks from competing with |
others for food waits in a pen with another horse
at the Fillmore County Fairgrounds.
Many of the animals were ones that nobody wanted at auction and were left in the kill pen, Phillips said, explaining that the individual thought he could get them sold.
Although he took the animals with the best intentions, Phillips said, "That does not make it right."
Even so, there are more people to blame than the owner, she said. The people who bred or originally purchased the animals should have been responsible for them, she said.
Anna Nelson, of Wykoff, a longtime family friend of the owner, described him as a good horseman who used to trade horses with her grandfather. He's also an elderly man who got caught up over his head because of some extenuating circumstances, she said.
First he had an outbreak of "the strangles" go through his herd, which causes swelling of the glands in the neck making it so the horses don't eat and lose weight quickly, she said.
Then, during the first cold snap this fall, he was injured in an accident and was hospitalized for 10 days because of the injuries, she said.
It was while he was in the hospital that someone reported that the horses weren't being taken care of, she said.
Among the animals taken into custody, were two mini mules whose pot bellies were not caused by food, but more likely parasites, Phillips said. Another mule had to have its halter cut off since it had become embedded into its neck and head and infected.
|Maggie Haugstad, a sophomore at Lanesboro High School, |
stands with a malnourished Arabian that was rescued this
week from a Fillmore County property.
She hopes to adopt the horse.
Many of the animals have ring worm and rain rot, a skin disease from being left outside without shelter, she said.
All are underfed, including a draft horse that was at least 400 pounds underweight. Among the most emaciated was a Hackeny pony, a type of show pony known for its high steps.
"Her knees still pop level when she walks," Phillips said. "Even as bad as she is she still has pride."
(Post Bulletin - Nov 30, 2012