Civil court hearing goes on to see if ND rancher can keep 'neglected' animals
DICKINSON, N.D.—The civil case over the seizure of a Gladstone man's 70 horses and 25 cattle will continue Wednesday morning.
Southwest District Judge Rhonda Ehlis heard three hours of testimony regarding the county's seizure of rancher Gary Dassinger's animals from one witness Tuesday morning at the Stark County Courthouse. Dassinger is accused of neglecting and abusing his animals.
Kim Brummond, a veterinarian and owner of West Dakota Veterinary Clinic in Dickinson, was the only witness to testify Tuesday. Dassinger's attorney, Thomas Murtha, will continue his questioning of Brummond Wednesday morning at 9 a.m.
Dassinger faces four counts of animal cruelty, all Class C felonies, and six counts of animal neglect, all Class A misdemeanors. The criminal case is set to begin on June 21.
Stark County Sheriff's Office contacted Brummond earlier this spring and asked her to inspect the animals on a ranch south of Gladstone. Brummond and Dr. Erika Schumacher, another veterinarian from West Dakota Veterinary Clinic, followed Sheriff Terry Oestreich and two other members of the sheriff's department to the ranch on April 22.
"The first thing we noticed as we drove up the drive was all the junk and debris strewn around and the dilapidated condition of the facility," Brummond said. "We got out of our vehicles and the first thing that struck me was the smell of rotting and decaying flesh in the air, and we could see a very thin, emaciated mare with a foal just off to our right."
Brummond went on to detail the extent of the alleged neglect of the animals on the property. Some of the animals she examined more closely, while others she only judged by sight. She used the Henneke Body Condition Scoring System to evaluate each horse's condition. The system uses a range from 1 to 9 to judge an animal's condition, with 1 being a dangerously thin animal and a 9 being fat, based on certain criteria such as visibility of ribs or hip bones. Brummond called it a barometer for an animal's health.
She judged the mare at a 1 body condition, saying in her professional opinion, the mare and foal would have lasted only two more days in their given conditions. They did not have any water at the time, she said, and the mare drank 35 gallons of water in a 15-hour period. Normally, horses weighing about 1,000 pounds only need about five to 10 gallons in a 24-hour period.
She also ran a diagnostic profile, a general chemistry report, on the mare after she and her foal were seized and taken to Brummond's clinic, she said when cross-examined by Murtha. This report showed the mare's kidneys and liver to be in good shape, which was "better than we would have expected it to be," she said. Brummond was also "pleasantly surprised" all the horse's results fell in normal ranges.
After Tuesday's hearing, Dassinger said he was interested in the "inaccurate science about the scoring of these animals."
"It's probably going to be a battle of the professionals," he said. "It's kind of out of my hands. I don't think any of them ever were number 1. I don't know, it's kind of scary in a way."
Last week, Dassinger admitted his animals were not in the best shape, but claimed his health condition and his hired help at the time, John Connor, a certified equine massage therapist, was partially to blame for the animals' condition, The Press reported.
"A message to any farmers or ranchers in North Dakota: if you've got somebody working for you, you should probably be following them around, make sure they're doing what they're doing because you're going to get nailed if they don't," Dassinger said Tuesday.
He also countered that he never had a chance to discuss his feeding schedule with Brummond or the authorities, saying he could have told them where other water sources were or told them about any additional supplements he fed. He also said he had another veterinarian look at the animals three days after Brummond's visit who gave a very different report.
Brummond also testified to two areas on the property that had dead animal bodies at varying levels of decay. She pointed to the exposed tin and debris in the corrals that could injure the animals. In some corrals, the ground was covered in manure leaving no space for the animals to lay down. Some animals did not appear to have access to water as well, and she questioned the nutrition level of the food that was available. She classified most of the horses she saw as a 4 or lower on the body condition scale.
In follow-up visits, she said the animals did appear in better condition. She also said animals could appear to be a 1 on the body scale if they were suffering from illness or injury that may prevent them from eating. Dassinger said he was given a May 12 deadline to de-worm and de-louse the animals, which he was able to complete with the help of new hired help.
"This is just beginning," he said. "They might come and take all the animals (Wednesday). It's kind of amazing to me that if I was such a terrible person, that they wouldn't trust all these animals with my care. I was the one that's been feeding and taking care of all the veterinary work and everything else since these animals were seized."