Authorities would consider proposals in wild horses case

Farm Forum

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — The prosecutor handling the case of a troubled wild-horse sanctuary in north-central South Dakota whose impounded animals are headed for auction said on Dec. 1 that authorities would “consider” proposals from other sanctuaries or organizations before the horses are sold.

The remarks from Dewey County state’s attorney Steven Aberle came on the deadline day given to the embattled sanctuary’s president to repay the public funds that have been used in caring for 810 horses and to prove that she has enough funding to feed and care for each animal for the next 18 months. A date has not been set to auction off the hundreds of horses at the sanctuary.

“If an organization or organizations came in and made a proposal, we would consider it at that time,” Aberle said. “At this point, they are going to auction. We have not been given any proposals. I know there are groups out there that want to do anything they can to keep them from going to auction.”

At least 150 horses have been adopted.

The 810 animals of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros ranch in Lantry were impounded through a judge’s order in October after a state veterinarian found the horses were being neglected and a former ranch employee said the horses were being starved to death. Since then, Dewey County Sheriff Les Mayer has been overseeing the care of the animals.

“I never figured as a sheriff I would be taking care of 800 horses,” Mayer said. “It’s part of the job I guess.”

Authorities put at roughly $100,000 the cost of caring for the 810 horses since they were impounded. Aberle said a grant and donations have brought down the amount to $76,000.

The sanctuary’s president, Karen Sussman, was given a Dec. 1 deadline to repay local authorities the $46,000 still owed after paying $30,000.

Dec. 1 was also the last day Sussman had to come up with 18 months’ worth of funding to feed and care for each horse she would like to keep. Authorities estimated Sussman would need $1,100 for each. In addition, authorities also required her to have on hand a little over $100,000 for fixed costs.

“Before they can keep a horse, it’s a pile of money,” Aberle said.

Sussman denied all wrongdoing allegations, which she said were fabricated by a “disgruntled employee.”

“Thirty horses did not starve to death,” she said. “Yes, we did lose some, but they were 25 or 30 years old.”

Sussman said the only way to “save” the horses is to donate to the society. No regulated horse-slaughter plants operate in the U.S. Mayer said the horses sold at auction may not necessarily end up at slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico, but acknowledged that some might.

“I had one horse buyer call me, and he buys hundreds of horses a month,” Mayer said. “He trains them, and those he can’t train go to a slaughterhouse.”