Wyoming Livestock Board wins on four counts of neglect
One of the largest animal welfare cases the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) has ever been involved in went to court on Feb. 9-10, and a guilty verdict on four counts of animal neglect was reached against an individual from near Afton, WY.
“There were over 100 horses involved, and it was a very big and significant case, primarily because of the magnitude of animals involved, their overall condition, and the long standing situation of neglect and abuse,” explained Wyoming State Veterinarian Jim Logan.
Wyoming Livestock Board Deputy Law Enforcement Administrator Kim Clark, was involved in much of the hands-on aspects of the case, and said he received multiple reports beginning in February, 2011, of man starving his horses.
“We started working with him then, and got him to agree to feed them a little better, which he did for about three months. But, when the snow melted off he just turned them out in a pasture with no grass, because it was cold and didn’t green up last year. The horses really started going downhill at that point, and that is when we seized them,” noted Clark.
Over 70 percent of the horses were at a body condition score of one or two, and after first unsuccessfully attempting to find a place to house the horses in or near Star Valley, the WLSB hauled the 97 animals still alive to Cheyenne, where they were put on adequate feed and given veterinary care.
“The WLSB has statutory authority for the welfare of livestock animals under Chapter 29 of Wyoming State Statutes. Our first goal is to get people in these situations educated and to not be heavy handed. But, in instances like this one, we had already made attempts to work with the individual to educate him, and to facilitate acquiring more feed, either by purchase or donation. It ultimately boiled down to him having several months of opportunity to comply, and he didn’t, and it got to the point where the animals were in such condition that it wasn’t feasible to wait any longer before seizing them,” stated Logan.
Upon seizing the animals, a court case was filed, and their original owner was given 10 days to post bond, which he did not do. This relinquished ownership of the animals to the WLSB under state law, and they were sold for $30 a head, which included a lifetime brand inspection on each horse. The funds received from the sale of the horses went into the WLSB budget as restitution.
“The way I view it is our people did an extremely good job documenting and gathering evidence, and coordinating the gathering and seizure of the horses. It was a cooperative effort between WLSB personnel and the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department,” said Logan of collaborative efforts exhibited throughout the case.
A six person jury, comprised of Lincoln County residents, listened to a total of nine witnesses during the trial. The witnesses testified to the condition of the horses, their offers to purchase and/or foster horses, and their offers to provide feed or labor.
“The man is scheduled for sentencing on Feb. 24, and we have made personal recommendations to the prosecutor. We are hoping that in sentencing he will be told he cannot own livestock for the next several years, and we are also hoping to receive additional restitution to go toward the costs associated with the case,” explained Clark.
He added that when dealing with starving or neglected animals, the WLSB takes a three-step approach. First, they try to educate the livestock owners on how to properly care and feed their animals. Second, they work with the owners in donating the animals to someone else who is better prepared to care for them. The last step the board will take is criminal charges, such as those filed in this instance.
“Quite often, people that don’t understand livestock and don’t have a background in livestock move out to the western country, buy a little ranchette, end up with 2-5 head of horses and some other livestock animals, and they just don’t understand the needs of those livestock animals. Livestock have certain needs that a lot of people don’t realize when they’re purchasing them, and it is very expensive to meet those needs and own those livestock. We would love to educate those people rather than prosecute them. Livestock are not pets, and their needs are not the same as a pets,” noted Clark.
Logan echoed his statement, noting that while the vast majority of livestock owners excel at animal husbandry, there are instances like this one where intervention is needed. “It was a very black and white case, and it was significant to have the guilty verdict rendered,” he said.