Horse herd in limbo after controversial seizure in the RM of Lakeview

An RM of Lakeview councillor complains protocols were breached 
after provincial officials seized a band of semi-feral horses near Langruth

The fate of a herd of horses rounded up in the RM of Lakeview remains in limbo while allegations fly they were improperly seized from their elderly owners.

Richard Callander, a local municipal councillor filed an appeal Jan. 21 on behalf of the owners for the return of 10 Morgan-Appaloosa-cross stallions, mares and their offspring, which were rounded up in early January.

“The horses are safe for now,” said Callander in an interview early this week.

He described the roundup a “fiasco” and accused animal welfare officers of breaching their own protocols in carrying out a seizure using means that he believes were unecessary and potentially cruel and abusive.

A news release from the Office of the Chief Veterinarian last week reported that “approximately” 10 horses were seized under the province’s Animal Care Act on Jan. 14 and had been placed in a location where they could be adequately cared for pending a seven-day appeal process.

But local residents said the herd had been rounded up with snowmobiles on Jan. 7 from a half-section pasture of rented land alongside the Big Grass Marsh near Langruth where they had lived under semi-feral conditions for roughly a decade.

Their disappearance, combined with rumours they were being sold for meat, sparked an email and Facebook campaign to spare them.

The owner of the property where the horses were pastured said the herd had access to ample bush shelter, leftover grass pasture under snow, and about 50 bales of hay, but could not pinpoint exactly how many animals were there. There was no notification to the landowner that animal welfare planned to intervene.

“We thought the horses were fine, but it seems the animal welfare people decided to pick them up,” the property owner said.

The herd’s owners, who have since moved to a nursing home, also owned a number of dogs that were seized by animal welfare officers earlier in the fall. But no action was taken then to round up the horses.

Amaranth RCMP Cpl. Jody Verspeek confirmed horses were reported missing Jan. 11 but said the investigation was dropped after the Office of the Chief Veterinarian confirmed that the horses were in their custody.

Ernie Vandersteen, manager of AESB Alonsa pasture, said in an interview he was hired by animal welfare officials to round up the horses on Jan. 7 and had been keeping them in a corral there ever since.

“Nobody did anything with these horses for 12 years. They were not fed, watered or cared for. They didn’t even maintain the fence to keep them off the RM roads,” said Vandersteen.

Vandersteen added that he was told the owners had verbally agreed to give up the horses to animal welfare officer Steinar Wamnes. “When animals are being starved it doesn’t matter who owns them, they can go and get them anytime and anywhere and they don’t need a right of entry or a cop present.

“They can talk all they want, those bleeding hearts. Do the math. If there was four brood mares and a stud 10 years ago, how many horses should there be out there right now? How many were dying, but they were away from the road so nobody could bitch about it?” said Vandersteen.

Callander said that the local RM council had decided late last year to round up the horses after they repeatedly escaped poorly maintained fences and got onto local roads. He said the herd was photographed in late 2012 and there was no evidence they were at risk of starvation. “The RM of Lakeview along with neighbours were rehoming the horses,” he said.

But before they could get written permission from the owners and enlist a group of riders to do the job, the herd went missing.

Callander also suspects that some of the horses have “gone missing,” possibly due to excessively harsh handling during the roundup.

“I did a quick count of the horses at the end of December, and I believe there were 17 head there,” said Callander, who added no animal welfare officers were present when the herd was rounded up.

“I told them, ‘We need animal care and control. I don’t want abuse of animals, but it’s really important that you do things by the book,’” said Callander. “It turned out funny. All of a sudden there’s two dead horses and only 10 left.”

A provincial government spokesperson said that the owners of the herd had until midnight Jan. 21 to file an appeal.

“I was not told they were rounded up on (Jan. 7). The information I have it was the 14th,” said the provincial spokesperson.

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