MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- In April, we shared with you heartbreaking images of a donkey and seven horses struggling to survive. They had been removed from a Fillmore County farm, badly malnourished and suffering from abuse.
The animals had endured months of starvation during a particularly brutal and cold winter.
"This is a catastrophic case where there was extreme neglect," explains Stacy Bettison, an attorney and vice president of the Minnesota Horse Welfare Coalition.
Bettison is pleased that Fillmore County is prosecuting the animals' owner, Jeremiah Smaglik, 42, with eight counts of torture, mistreatment and animal cruelty. Two of the charges are serious felonies, carrying penalties of up to two years in jail and $5,000 in fines.
"The property was filled with manure and dirt with no places to stand. The barn was filled with manure and there was no trace of food," Bettison said.
According to the complaint, Smaglik told investigators he rescued nine horses and a donkey last October from a "kill pit" after intending to adopt only one.
Five months later, deputies found the animals near starvation. There was evidence of horses chewing on wood fencing and reaching under fencing for food.
There appeared to be no bedding materials and no remnants of hay or feed. Manure was in the watering trough.
Then, deputies discovered two horses dead on the lawn, covered by a tarp.
Bettison says the brutal winter was particularly cruel for an animal being underfed.
"That's a long time to be standing around through the long cold, snowy winter without resources you need. Eventually, the body just starts to wither away."
The Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescue has helped place the recovering horses and donkey with caring owners. Sadly, one of the more badly emaciated horses did not survive.
As for the others, before and after photographs reveal their remarkable recoveries — prospering to the point of riding once again.
Smaglik faces both jail time and steep fines for bringing all of them to the brink of death. He will appear in Fillmore County court on June 17.
Bettison adds that resources are available for horse owners who cannot afford feed for their animals. More information is available through the Minnesota Horse Welfare Coalition and the Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescue Foundation.
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