NORTH DAKOTA -- A judge in Dickinson has ordered that 70 horses and 20 cattle be seized from a Gladstone rancher accused of neglecting and abusing them.
The seizure order comes after the Stark County Sheriff's Office and a local veterinarian found last month that some of the animals were lice-ridden, dehydrated, starving and suffering from parasites, according to a report. Two horses were severely crippled and needed to be put down. There was junk in the pens and two recently deceased and bloated cows were found behind the house.
"I've been doing this for 33 years ... This is the most emotionally disturbing animal abuse case I've ever been on," said veterinarian Kim Brummond, of Dickinson.
The Stark County State's Attorney's Office sued the owner, Gary Dassinger, and received orders from Southwest Judicial District Judge Dan Greenwood to seize and dispose of the animals. The horses will be given to the Triple H Miniature Horse Rescue, located southwest of Mandan, and adopted out. The cows will be sold for slaughter.
Animal neglect and abuse charges are forthcoming against Dassinger, according to Stark County State's Attorney Tom Henning.
"It's our allegation he is directly responsible," Henning said. "Animals do not get in that kind of condition without active maltreatment or neglect."
Dassinger said in a phone interview that the animals were thin, but he does not think they were emaciated.
In December, Dassinger says he hired a ranch hand to help him care for the animals, which live on the property near his home. He said he has had some "hip and spinal conditions" that made him unable to care for the animals himself.
"I hired the wrong ranch hand," Dassinger said. "I was paying someone to take care of the animals and he didn't. Next thing I know, sheriff shows up on my doorstep."
Since hearing from the sheriff, Dassinger said he has hired a new ranch hand to care for the animals. He has a job but said breeding horses is a major part of his livelihood.
"The livestock are now in excellent condition," he said. "And now they're going to take them all away from me."
Since the initial report, the animals' condition is "drastically improved," said Brummond. She attributes this mostly to the warm weather, which has helped the grass grow.
But Henning said the initial condition of the animals was so bad that seizure is appropriate, regardless of how the animals are now.
"Based on what I learned from the first recitation to me of the conditions and the photography of the scene and number of animals, I had no hesitation or question about whether or not these animals should be seized," he said.
Carolyn Woodruff, a Beulah veterinarian hired by Dassinger to assess the animals last week, disagrees. She said the animals looked good, mostly due to the hard work and expense of the owner.
"He has done a lot of work to get those horses fed back up, dewormed and deloused," Woodruff said. "I don't see any reason for seizure."
Well she was paid by Dassinger so I question her opinion.
Though Dassinger is distraught — comparing it to losing children — he is grateful that the horses will be rescued and not be slaughtered, as was the original plan.
Alison Smith, director of the animal rescue, said volunteers will travel to Dassinger's farm on Thursday and haul the horses back to Mandan in trailers.
Smith said some of the animals will need to gain some weight, and her organization will treat the animals for any lice and parasites. This is one of the larger seizures her organization has handled, so they will need to find more hay to feed them.
But the horses look "very average" now and should be adopted quickly.
"It shouldn't be hard to find home, hopefully," Smith said.
(Bismarck Tribune - May 24, 2017)