Allegations of abuse, neglect at Presidio stockyard unfounded, deputy says
By BENJAMIN WERMUND
PRESIDIO – A Presidio stockyard Monday housed healthy horses, skin-and-bone horses, and horses in every condition in between. But every pen had hay and water, and a mound of bails sat outside, ready to feed the animals.
The treatment of the few hundred horses in the pens, which act as a way station for horses headed to Mexico for slaughter, spawned a week of controversy, extreme claims and angry telephone calls to Presidio County officials, which the Presidio County Sheriff’s Office is now trying to put to rest.
A weeklong, ongoing investigation by the sheriff’s department has determined skin-and-bone and injured horses likely arrived at the pens in that condition and were not starved or harmed in the Alvardo Pens, which are leased to C4 Cattle Inc. of Burlington, Texas.
The animals have been fed, watered, and adequately cared for while in the pens, Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Joel Nuñez said.
“[Some of] these are abused horses, but it’s not the pens,” he said.
The controversy began last Wednesday when the Franklin, Texas, animal welfare activist group Wild Horse Foundation posted claims of thousands of horses and hundreds of cattle starving in the pens on its website and Facebook page.
And so started the complaints. Calls from Presidio, all over Texas, and as far away as Virginia began streaming into to county officials, the sheriff, and city police. The International and Sentinel received word from concerned citizens, as well.
Presidio Justice of the Peace Juanita Bishop on Thursday ordered the sheriff’s department to sequester (seize property by court order) the animals in the pens. The department quickly determined there were about 300 horses and no cattle, countering the Wild Horse Foundation’s claims from the day before.
Video footage taken Thursday by the sheriff’s office shows the horses in the pens ranged in various states of wellbeing.
A sheriff’s office investigation into potential animal cruelty in the pens is under way, and while the investigation is ongoing until the horses currently in the pens are shipped to Mexico, Nuñez said charges aren’t likely to come.
“Some of the animals were coming in in really bad shape,” Nuñez said.
He said one of the county’s deputies monitored the horses being unloaded Monday and witnessed horses getting off with serious injuries.
People from across the United States have continued to contact the department, however, and have email photos of underfed and injured horses.
“We get a picture, we go out and investigate,” Nuñez said.
Some of the pictures have led police to find more horses in bad shape, but Nuñez said as soon as the workers in the pens are made aware of any injuries, they have acted quickly to take care of the situation.
During a court hearing on Friday, Presidio County Justice of the Peace Cinderella Guevara ended the sequestration and ordered the horses be given back to C4 Cattle.
“Until those horses are gone, we’re making sure they’re taken care of,” Nuñez said.
Meanwhile, the Wild Horse Foundation has teamed up with an unlikely partner to file a lawsuit against C4 Cattle and Intermeat Inc./Dallas Crown, a Belgian meat company that purchases horses headed to Mexico.
The foundation filed the lawsuit with Trenton Saulters, a Waco man who buys horses from all across the United States to sell to companies like Intermeat. About 40 of the horses in the pens came from Saulters. The lawsuit aims to get $10,000 in damages and have the horses returned to Saulters, although Intermeat and C4 Cattle claim Saulters has already been paid for the horses.
The unlikely union between the foundation and Saulters — a “kill buyer” who regularly exports horses to Mexico for slaughter, which the foundation aims to end — has alienated and outraged some of the foundations followers and supporters.
“The [Humane Society] has Michael Vick and I have Trent,” Wild Horse Foundation Executive Director Ray Field, said. “This is sort of like local cops hiring the gangster to go in and find the drug lord. He’s got inside information. It doesn’t matter to me what people think, because I’m doing the work.”
Field began looking for his inside man after flying over the pens last Wednesday, just before putting the bloated claims about thousands of horses and hundreds of cattle on his website. Field knew Saulters and called him. Sure enough, Saulters had horses in the pens and the two began working on the lawsuit, which is currently pending.
This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Saulters’s name.