DICKINSON -- A horse on a farm east of Dickinson was recovering Friday from an apparent sexual assault, an illegal act ranchers suggest happens all too often in this area, but rarely gets reported.

When Rex Cook saw his son-in-law's horse Jan. 17, he knew something was wrong with her. He phoned the Stark County Sheriff's Office which responded.

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"It seemed like it was kind of doped or sedated the following day around noon," said SCSO Capt. Dean Franchuk.

The 7-year-old mare, which resided on Cook's farm, continued to act in an unhealthy manner, so Cook called his son-in-law, Jerry Reichert, to take her to a veterinarian in Glendive, Mont.

Reichert said the injuries were nothing like the vet had encountered before.

"This is, as you can imagine, not something you think about," he said. "It was fairly traumatic in respect to the horse."

The vet was unsure whether an instrument was used to cause the horse's internal injuries, however the wounds were consistent with sexual assault, Reichert said. A toxicology screen was completed, but drugs that might have been used in the attack could be filtered out of the horse's system as she wasn't seen by the vet until nearly 24 hours after the attack, he said.

"She's perked up a lot," he said Friday morning. "She's not nearly as lethargic as she was. There's still something going on because of drainage and so forth, but she doesn't seem to be -- she's not standing with her head down and lethargic anymore."

After another examination Friday, the vet thought the mare was going to recover well, Reichert said. Time will tell if there will be lasting damage, but she should make a full recovery.

This is not the first time an attack like this has happened. Horse farrier Lee Hecker found his daughter's older mare on the ground with grease on its "rear-end" this fall. They did not take the horse to the vet, but doctored it at home.

Hecker has over the years found evidence of assault on his horses and cows.

"We went several years and nothing's happening until this fall now, we notice that some things aren't right, so we think it's starting again," he said. "We basically have some sex perverts and I doubt very much if it's just one."

Stark County State's Attorney Tom Henning said this is the second incident of bestiality he has heard of in his 30 years at the office, the first being about 10 years ago.

"This is something we don't get any kind of actual notice of very often," the county state's attorney said of his office.

According to North Dakota law, "a person who performs a deviate sexual act with the intent to arouse or gratify his sexual desire is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor."

A Class A misdemeanor is punishable for up to one year's imprisonment, a fine of $2,000, or both.

There is a bill in front of the North Dakota Legislature that would increase the penalty for animal abuse from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class C felony for a second offense.

A Class C felony is punishable by up to five years' imprisonment, a fine of $5,000, or both.

Cook is offering a $500 reward for anyone with information that leads to the arrest of the horse's attacker. Call the SCSO at 701-456-7610.