Deputies went to the scene. But the would-be rescue mission resulted in a bloody end for one of the horses.
A sheriff's sergeant shot the horse six times with his pistol on Oct. 31 before it finally fell. Sgt. Keith Scott Samet, 42, was acting on the instructions of one of his agency's on-call veterinarians, Timothy Holt, who told him to open fire after the doctor's two tranquilizer darts failed to work, a sheriff's report said.
A national animal rights group said the incident in unincorporated Dallas County near Seagoville wasn't handled correctly.
"Riddling an animal with bullets violates national veterinary guidelines, Texas animal-protection laws, and the veterinary oath to 'do no harm,'" said Stephanie Bell, senior director of cruelty casework for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
The owners of the two horses have not been identified by authorities, and the animal cruelty case against the owner remains open. PETA is offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever neglected the horses.
Two other veterinarians said they prefer to sedate injured horses before injecting them with a drug solution to euthanize.
Holt, who lives in Terrell, has been disciplined three times by the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners for infractions related to record keeping and for violating a standard of humane treatment. In 1999, he misdiagnosed two horses that later had to be euthanized, according to records from the veterinary board.
In 2005, Holt was the first and possibly only and possibly only person to clone whitetail deer on his ranch for a commercial enterprise.
Holt declined to talk about the October horse incident.
Animal cruelty call
The Sheriff's Department got the call at 12:47 a.m. on Oct. 31 on Bilindsay Road, near Seagoville, in southeastern Dallas County.
A passing motorist made the call after seeing two injured and malnourished horses on a grassy shoulder next to the road. One was lying on its side, in worse shape, and was suffering from a disease affecting its feet. The other was standing and had cuts on its neck.
The first deputy to arrive said the horses were "immobile and unable to be moved due to their injuries," according to the sheriff's report. He called the sheriff's livestock unit deputy, who has a trailer and other equipment, but could not reach him. The deputy then called Holt, who arrived at 2:54 a.m., the report said.
Holt injected the horse on the ground with a chemical solution to euthanize it. He said he wasn't able to euthanize the other horse.
Holt said he "could not get close enough to the horse to do what he needed to put the horse down because it kept moving away," according to the sheriff's report.
In a follow-up interview, Holt told a sheriff's detective that the standing horse was severely malnourished and had "severe wounds around the neck from possibly being tied up for long periods of time," the report said.
"Dr. Holt advised the deputies on the scene that they needed to put this asleep themselves," according to the report.
Holt didn't want to have to bother coming out at 3am. Clearly if the horse wouldn't let itself be caught it was in healthy enough shape to be transported for care.
Normally, injured livestock are taken by trailer to the sheriff's Kennedy Livestock Center in Hutchins. State law requires the sheriff to pick up stray livestock, care for them and auction them off if not claimed within 18 days.
But the horses in this case were too ill and malnourished to be transported, and as a result Holt made the decision to euthanize them, the Sheriff's Department said.
Holt, 51, is one of several on-call veterinarians the Sheriff's Department uses, according to sheriff's spokeswoman Melinda Urbina.
The vets do not have contracts with the county, said Darryl Martin, the Commissioners Court administrator. They submit bills to the county for their services.
Holt has been paid $6,500 in the five years that he's been used by the sheriff, Martin said.
Urbina said her agency may use Holt again in the future because he is still a registered county vendor.
"We have noted what occurred in this instance and will take that into consideration when deciding who to call in a similar situation," she said.
Bell, of PETA, said the sheriff's report indicates the horse "suffered terribly in his final minutes."
She said PETA will ensure that the veterinarian's actions will be reported to the state veterinary board, given his previous discipline.
"I never heard of anything like this before," Martin said about the shooting of the second horse.
Holt has been licensed in Texas since 1991. His discipline includes a formal reprimand in 2013 for failing to keep proper medical records for an Arabian horse he treated. Holt also sent a blood sample from the horse to a lab by regular mail instead of overnight, harming the accuracy of the results, according to Texas veterinary board records.
Holt was reprimanded in 2011 for keeping incomplete lab test records, failing to submit test documents quick enough and other infractions related to the tests, state records show.
His first reprimand was in 2000, for misdiagnosing four horses, according to the records. Holt said they were suffering from heatstroke when in fact it was blister beetle poisoning. Holt declined to return to examine the horses after their condition worsened. Two of the horses had to be euthanized, the records said.
Holt was criticized in 2005 for cloning deer on his breeding ranch about 30 miles east of Dallas.
A Field & Stream article that year called him "Dr. Frankendeer" in the headline and said his company was the first and only private entity licensed by the state of Texas to clone deer for commercial gain. Holt's company, Revolution Whitetails, held the patent on the process. Holt told another publication that he expected to try to clone a horse in the future.
The right way
The American Veterinary Medical Association has published guidelines on how to properly and humanely euthanize animals like horses with a firearm.
The guidelines said a "properly placed gunshot" can result in an immediate loss of consciousness and a humane death. The preferred target is the head — but at a specific location well above the eyes and at the correct angle.
Only people "skilled in the method" should shoot a horse to euthanize it, the AVMA said.
In some instances, a gunshot to the neck or heart may be necessary, the AVMA euthanasia guidelines said, when it's not possible to meet the association's definition of euthanasia. The AVMA noted that a shot to the neck or heart does not immediately render animals unconscious.
A guide on animal euthanasia by Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine said it could be necessary to shoot animals from a distance if they are "on their feet and mobile and potentially dangerous." In such cases, preferred target areas include the neck and body, the report said.
But Dr. Susan Heath, a North Texas veterinarian who has worked with the SPCA on animal cruelty cases, said she would advise against shooting a horse in the neck or body to euthanize it.
"I would assume the horse suffered," she said about last month's incident.
Heath's practice includes large animals and she said she's helped the Ellis County Sheriff's Office with such cases.
"You're not going to put a horse down shooting it in the neck or body, unless you happen to be extremely lucky," she said.
Heath said she doesn't know the exact circumstances deputies were faced with last month, but that she would have tried to put a rope around the horse's head -- even with its injuries -- to steady it. Heath said she would then have tried to put the horse on the ground with a shot of general anesthesia so she could inject the euthanasia solution.
Heath said it's possible the deputies and their vet were afraid the horse would take off running if they tried to rope it, and they didn't want the chance of a motorist hitting it.
Dr. Leslie Easterwood, a veterinarian and professor at Texas A&M University, said she also would sedate an injured horse before euthanizing it with a drug solution. While gunshots are an approved method, she said, "you must be able to to be in very close proximity to the horse to perform the shot humanely with a pistol."
"In most scenarios, if you are close enough for a properly placed gunshot, then you are close enough to use a euthanasia solution intravenously," Easterwood said.
She added that shooting an injured horse from a distance with a pistol does not offer a humane option.
"There are very few scenarios where the horse could not be contained or approached," Easterwood said.
The shooting was done in Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price's district. The longtime commissioner said he doesn't have any concerns about what happened.
"I am comfortable it was handled properly and under the direction of a veterinarian," Price said.
Price also defended the county's arrangement with the vet.
"If he's still a licensed vet, I'd think that'd be the basic requirement," Price said. "We didn't go out and hire a printer for a veterinary job."
(Dallas news blog - Dec 7, 2016)