One of the 13 horses seized Friday from a pasture near Melvern, with its ribs showing, appears to be underfed.

Wayne White | Managing Editor

MELVERN—Osage County Sheriff Laurie Dunn seized 13 horses from a pasture near Melvern Friday, after a local veterinarian determined the horses were malnourished. Two horse carcasses were also found in the pasture northeast of the intersection of 325th Street and Jordan Road.

Dunn said her office became involved in the case after neighbors reported seeing horses that appeared to be underfed and unhealthy. She said after the investigation began, the owner of the property, whom she identified as Salah Aibriham, of Douglas County, was notified.

By Friday, it appeared the owner was not going to take any action, Dunn said, and the decision was made to have a veterinarian evaluate the animals’ condition.

“Nothing was being done,” Dunn said.

The sheriff requested Dr. Teresa Tucker, of Carbondale, to examine the animals and she found some of them to be near starvation.

Tucker said Tuesday that four of the horses “were in fair shape, passable shape.”

“Eight were in various stages of starvation and malnutrition, and four of those were severely malnourished,” Tucker said. “One was so weak it couldn’t keep up with the herd.”

Tucker said a fecal test was also conducted, which revealed the horses were heavily infested with internal parasites.

“Their hip bones were protruding, back bones protruding, and their ribs were showing,” Tucker said. “Several were basically hides stretched over skeletons. I wasn’t sure one was going to survive the trip out of there.”

With Tucker’s determination, the horses were loaded on three trailers by deputies and volunteers.

Mike Pruitt, an Osage County commissioner, said Monday that he had helped round up the horses and load them on the trailers, one of which he had loaned to transport the animals. Pruitt said he noticed at least two dead horses in the pasture during the round up.

Pruitt said one of the weakest horses “folded” as it was being loaded on the trailer. He said the horses were taken to a horse shelter near Emporia.

Dunn refused to say where the animals were taken, citing the need to keep the location confidential “in case the owner tries to come and get them,” although state law requires an animal shelter to notify the owner of animals placed in the shelter’s care.

Monday, the Osage County Commission discussed the accruing cost to board the animals, which they believed to be $20 per day per horse. Dunn said later the cost would be approximately $11 per horse per day. She noted that state law allows those costs to be assessed to the animals’ owner. The owner cannot recover damages for placement of the animals unless it is proven the placement was unwarranted.

As of Tuesday, Osage County Attorney Brandon Jones had not filed formal charges in the case. Jones said Monday that he was waiting for an offense report to be filed by the investigating officer, deputy Jay Henry, before making a charging decision. Dunn said Henry’s report would not be completed until Wednesday of this week when Henry is back on duty.

The state’s animal cruelty statute includes intentionally abandoning or leaving an animal in a place without making provisions for its proper care as prohibited conduct. A first conviction of that offense is a misdemeanor, punishable by a $500 fine and up to a year in jail. Subsequent convictions of animal cruelty are considered a felony. If a person is found guilty of animal cruelty, the court can decide the animal will not be returned to the owner.

The county’s land records indicate the property where the animals were kept is owned by Stonehouse Rentals, Inc., which has a Lawrence post office box. Records available on the Kansas Secretary of State’s Web site show that Stonehouse’s agent is Salah Ibrihim, of Linwood. Ibrihim could not be reached for comment. The county’s land records show that Stonehouse Rentals owns six land parcels in the county, ranging from 72.5 acres up to 158.6 acres.

Dunn said the two dead horses in the pasture appeared “to have been dead for a very long time.”

One of the neighbors who was concerned about the horses’ welfare is Mandi Nance, who lives near the pasture. Nance said she had known the horses were being kept there, but only became concerned about them this spring when one of the horses was running loose and another neighbor pointed out its condition to her.

“I was utterly shocked at what I was looking at,” Nance said.

Nance said she contacted the sheriff’s office at the first of April, but at the time, a responding deputy could not get close enough to the horses to determine their condition. Nance said she contacted local media last week in an effort to bring attention to the situation.

“I just felt it was so terrible, I needed someone to take notice to help,” she said. “I really feared for them, it was that bad. There was one so sick I wasn’t sure she would make it another hour.”

She said after she learned of the situation, she felt guilty when driving by the pasture “because I had a warm home all winter, my children ate, my animals ate. I really feel guilty that it took me so long. I knew I had to do everything it took to make a difference for these horses.”

Nance said she believes the dead horses had died prior to her notification to the sheriff’s office.

“It’s too bad that horses had to die,” she said.

She said she was happy with the sheriff’s action in seizing the horses.

“They’re trying to make a difference in these horses’ lives and trying to see that they’re protected and taking care of them,” she said. “No animal deserves to be treated the way those horses were treated.”

Tucker said the pasture’s size was sufficient for the number of horses kept there, but they needed supplemental feed during the winter and other necessary health care.

“They would have been fine if they had been fed some good quality hay. They needed to be de-wormed on a regular basis, just the general care that’s part of the responsibility of owning a horse,” Tucker said. “It’s not right for horses to starve to death, they’re depending on someone else to provide for their care.”

Tucker said she believed her participation in the investigation was “what was right for the horses.”

“I’m glad they were removed and glad they’re getting the care they deserve,” Tucker said.