On Jan. 5, 2017, the South Dakota state’s attorneys in Ziebach and Dewey Counties filed a motion requesting that a judge transfer to two equine welfare organizations control of 540 wild horses found starving and neglected at the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros in Lantry, S.D.
Filed in the Fourth Circuit Court of Ziebach County, the motion requests that management and placement of the horses be turned over to Fleet of Angels, an organization that provides emergency assistance and transportation to at-risk equines in the United States and Canada, and Habitat for Horses, an equine rescue based in Texas.
If the motion is approved, the wild horses would be placed in safe homes rather than sold at auction, where they could fall into the hands of kill buyers who would transport them to Canada or Mexico for slaughter. This would be one of the largest known equine rescue and adoption efforts in U.S. history.
Fleet of Angels has already received a large number of applications for the horses. During the adoption process, the horses would be placed in a variety of approved homes, sanctuaries and rescues. Options to keep some of the herds as intact as possible are also being pursued.
The court filing follows a unanimous vote on Dec. 22 by the South Dakota Animal Industry Board recommending to the court that the horses at ISPMB be turned over to another animal organization or group of organizations in order to allow adoptions to continue.
In mid-October, State’s Attorney Steve Aberle asked Elaine Nash, Executive Director of Fleet of Angels, to conduct a national adoption campaign with the initial goal of placing one third of the 810 ISPMB horses. By Christmas, Fleet of Angels member Palomino Armstrong and team had gathered, sorted, and loaded the currently allowed limit of over 270 horses onto adopter’s trailers for their trips to safe new homes, despite difficulties caused by especially harsh winter weather. The Wild Horse and Burro Sanctuary Alliance helped supply hay, and generous contributions by Victoria McCullough made purchasing hay, needed panels and other critical materials possible.
On Dec. 10, a consortium of animal welfare organizations reached an agreement with the state’s attorneys in Ziebach and Dewey Counties that averted a planned auction of the remaining wild horses, to give them every chance possible at avoiding slaughter and reaching a good home.
County officials and the state Animal Industry Board approved the agreement.
The counties had planned to auction the horses to recoup the costs they had incurred. The auction would have taken place on Dec. 20 in Faith, S.D., but the participating animal welfare groups established a fund that would reimburse the counties instead. Participating organizations will continue to raise funds for the care and feeding of the horses during the second phase of the adoption process.
Return to Freedom will work with Fleet of Angels and Habitat for Horses to ensure that suitable homes for the horses are found. Return to Freedom, an organization known nationally for its work with wild horses, will be working to facilitate the placing of whole herds when possible, helping ensure that many family bands are kept together, and that stallion groups are placed responsibly.
The Humane Society of the United States, generous donor Patricia Griffin-Soffel, Woodside, Calif., and another national equine welfare organization contributed toward a fund to cover what the counties expended in feeding and caring for the horses since October.
About 540 horses are still in need of good homes. The ongoing cost of feeding the horses is estimated at $40,000 per month. Those costs will continue throughout the adoption mission. Public support through donations is critical to the success of this campaign.
The health of the remaining mustangs varies widely. While some are in excellent condition, many are underweight and most are infested with parasites. Some of the horses also suffer from blindness or vision impairment, the cause of which is still being investigated.
Fleet of Angels and their participating partners will offer post-adoption subsidies for gelding and other veterinary needs, as well as microchipping each of the horses.
How the public can help
Feed and Care Fund: The public can support the wild horses while adoptions continue by donating to a fund created to for feed, veterinary care, and other costs related the lifesaving mission for the ISPMP horses by donating to the Wild Horse and Burro Sanctuary Alliance.
Adopt: It is critical that adoptions continue so that every horse can be successfully placed and transported safely to approved homes in the next few weeks. If you would like to help by adopting wild horses in pairs, groups, family bands, or herds please contact: Fleet of Angels at Hold Your Horses or on the ISPMB Horses / Emergency Adoption Mission page on Facebook.
About participating organizations
Fleet of Angels is a not-for-profit organization with thousands of on-call members who offer crisis management and transportation assistance during equine-related emergencies, as well as other services. The organization oversees the coordination of hundreds of successful equine-related emergency missions in the U.S. and Canada each year, with each mission involving from one horse to many.
Return to Freedom is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the freedom, diversity, and habitat of wild horses and burros through sanctuary, education, advocacy and conservation, while enriching the human spirit through direct experience with the natural world. It has operated the American Wild Horse Sanctuary on California’s Central Coast since 1998.
Habitat for Horses is a not-for-profit equine protection organization committed to the prevention, rescue and rehabilitation of neglected, abused and homeless horses. Assisting law enforcement agencies throughout the country, HfH operates four ranches in Texas to rehabilitate, retrain and find new homes for equine involved in legal cases of all types. The organization has taken a leadership role in horse protection issues and has been instrumental in developing and promoting legislation to eliminate the slaughter of American horses.
About the Wild Horse and Burro Sanctuary Alliance: Return to Freedom, Habitat for Horses, Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, and Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue formed the alliance to provide a supportive and more cohesive community for wild horse and burro sanctuaries.