Wild horse cruelty case grows costly for county

(Note from KH: These are some of the horses stolen by the BLM from the Dann sisters of northcentral Nevada.)

August 13, 2003

By Hildy Medina, News-Press staff writer


Santa Barbara News Press - Local News


To submit a Letter to the Editor: voices@newspress.com

A frustrated county Board of Supervisors was told Tuesday that the only action it can take concerning the ongoing animal cruelty investigation involving hundreds of horses at the Gardner Ranch is to allocate more money to a probe that's already over budget.

"This board's jurisdiction to take any action in this matter is severely constrained," Shane Stark, county counsel, told the board. "If Animal Services needs more resources, your board has the authority to deal with that contingency."

If the 4-month-long criminal investigation continues through the first quarter of this fiscal year, the animal agency will need up to $20,000 to carry out daily monitoring, according to public health director Roger Heroux. The county is checking to ensure the more than 500 horses on the property operated by Slick Gardner are fed.

Gail Marshall, 3rd District supervisor, said she hopes some action can be taken to impound or take the horses off the property because she doesn't see the problem going away any time soon.

"The long-term problem here is that this person may get more horses, and if he does this problem will be compounded. I feel that it's been so difficult to get our arms around this. What will we do if this man is allowed to get more horses?" Ms. Marshall said.

"This is almost way out of our league. The efforts and large amount of staff time doesn't seem to be good enough and it's very scary." The News-Press could not reach Mr. Gardner for comment.

The hearing was the third in a series of progress reports given to the board by Animal Services, which began its investigation in April after a group of area residents complained to county officials that wild horses were starving under Mr. Gardner's care. The Buellton rancher has not been present at any of the hearings.

A meeting of the investigating agencies, which include the District Attorney's office and Sheriff's Department, was recommended by the board.

Mr. Heroux, the board, and members of the public all had concerns about finding an exit strategy.

"We cannot continue coming to you month after month," Mr. Heroux told the board. "I am committed as the department head to bring this to a conclusion soon one way or the other."

In July, the board ordered the agency to provide periodic updates on the condition of the horses after citizens complained that the agency was not doing a proper job monitoring the animals.

Jan Glick, Animal Services director, told the board at the two-hour hearing that the sickly mustangs continue to "slowly improve," but that a foal died several weeks ago. "We requested a necroscopy but ruled out starvation," Ms. Glick said. "All future animals that die will be necroscopied."

The horses, she said, will continue to be monitored several times a week. "We care deeply about the welfare of these horses," said Ms. Glick.

Some of the same people who complained last month continued to express their frustration over the probe. Photographs of emaciated horses and foals were shown at the hearing, including a video of what some of the horses looked like in in Nevada last February. About 250 of the 500 horses came from a federal Bureau of Land Management roundup in Nevada.

"Animal control is not taking care of these horses. They are not enforcing the rules," said Myrt Starr, a former friend of Mr. Gardner.

Concerns were also raised about whether Mr. Gardner can pay the veterinary bills and pay for feed for the horses. Aaron Schwartz, a hay supplier, told the board he is owed more than $18,000 by Mr. Gardner, who allegedly wrote him two bad checks.

"If he didn't pay for this hay, how is going to be able to feed these horses?" asked Mr. Schwartz. "Something needs to be done and done immediately. There are an awful lot of horses out there."


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(Note from KH: This is an older article from last month regarding the horses stolen by the BLM from the Dann sisters of north central Nevada. These horses were fat and sleek when they were stolen.)

Supervisors act in sick horses case

July 16, 2003

By Hildy Medina, News-Press staff writer


Santa Barbara News Press - Local News


To submit a Letter to the Editor: voices@newspress.com

Prompted by accusations that complaints continue to go unchecked by animal welfare officials concerning the care and monitoring of some 600 horses on Slick Gardner's Buellton ranch, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday pressed officials with the Public Health Department for answers.

The board also ordered county counsel to form a special committee to address some of the public's concerns about the mustangs' plight.

"For some reason animal control has not been user-friendly," said 4th District Supervisor Joni Gray. "I'm curious to know what public health is doing to remedy this situation. It's not acceptable."

Public health officials, who are working on the probe in conjunction with the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's office, told the board that because of the ongoing criminal investigation the agency is limited in what it can say.

"These horses are receiving adequate diets and have water available to them," a prepared statement given to the supervisors said in part. "At this time, approximately 7 percent of the population has special needs that are being addressed under the supervision of the department and with the cooperation of Mr. Gardner."

Supervisors weren't satisfied with the report, and ordered public health officials to return on July 22 with a more detailed account of what the agency is doing to ensure the welfare of the mustangs. The Animal Services office first began its probe in early April after a group of area residents complained to county officials that wild mustangs which had arrived in February on Mr. Gardner's ranch were starving under his care.

The 56-year-old Buellton rancher has repeatedly maintained this is not true and that the sicker horses, all mares, were ill when he brought them from Nevada following a gathering by the federal Bureau of Land Management.

Concern over the horses crossed state lines earlier this month when Nevada's top veterinarian, David Thain, two representatives with the Washington, D.C.-based Doris Day Animal League and Jan Glick, director of Animal Services, spent two days on the Gardner ranch assessing the animals' condition.

"The county continues to see progress with many of the horses," said a letter written by the team of visitors to Mr. Gardner. "However, some of the horses continue to be in unacceptable condition."

The letter went on to give detailed recommendations on how to care for the mustangs.

Kay Williams, a former friend of Mr. Gardner, told the board that the alleged indifference by Animal Services not only stems from the limited information being given to the public but the content as well.

"What is happening to the horses on the ranch and what animal control is telling us is going on, are two different things," Ms. Williams told the board. "We are watching these horses deteriorate before our eyes."

Members of the public also raised concerns about whether the Animal Services officer in charge of monitoring is an experienced livestock person and what, if any, veterinary care was in place for the approximately 42 horses that require special care.

Supervisor Joseph Centeno turned his attention to Ms. Glick, wondering what exactly was being done to take care of the "special need" animals.

"What is it that we're doing to ensure that they will survive this thing?" Mr. Centeno asked. "The ones that are in dire need are what is most important to us right now." According to Ms. Glick the sicker mustangs were separated and are being "watched more closely, are being evaluated for parasite load and we're giving them additional feed."

At a brief meeting outside chambers with some members of the public and health officials, Peggy Langle, a deputy director with the Public Health Department defended Animal Services' investigation.

"It may not look like we're doing much, but the biggest issue is we're not communicating what you want us to," said Ms. Langle. "This is consuming all our lives every day on the job."