East Bethel, Minn., horse farm accused of animal neglect
ST. PAUL Horse lovers descended Monday on an East Bethel farm to draw attention to 71 horses they say are being neglected inside its fences. Alleging many of the animals on Lowell Friday's farm are starving and living in pens sometimes filled to ...
Horse lovers descended Monday on an East Bethel farm to draw attention to 71 horses they say are being neglected inside its fences.
Alleging many of the animals on Lowell Friday's farm are starving and living in pens sometimes filled to their knees with manure, the roughly 50-person group organized a barrage of phone calls to the Animal Humane Society early Monday morning to demand an investigation.
Authorities arrived about noon and emerged hours later to report that 10 horses were in troubling health. Two were so emaciated that they were removed. The remaining eight could be seized later, said Keith Streff, senior humane investigator with the Animal Humane Society.
Streff conducted Monday's investigation along with two veterinarians.
Friday, a longtime horse breeder criticized for his care of animals, could face criminal charges, investigators said.
"Right now, the condition is acute," Streff said of the flagged horses, adding he plans to return to the farm. "I'm surprised (Friday) let it get to this point."
Authorities limited access to Friday during the investigation. Afterward, he could not be reached for comment.
Friday owns three adjoining parcels of land totaling about 45 acres.
Monday was not Streff's first encounter with Friday, who has been on the Animal Humane Society's radar for 15 years, Streff said. Friday was convicted of misdemeanor animal cruelty in 2007 in the negligent death of a colt and placed on a year of probation.
He also is under a stipulated agreement with the city of East Bethel for his farm's interim use permit.
The Anoka County sheriff's office fielded three complaints about the farm in 2007 and another in 2010, said Paul Sommer, department spokesman. The Anoka County attorney's office declined to file charges at those times.
Streff said he expects Friday will fight the latest accusations.
"He thinks this is all a ruse and that his horses are perfectly healthy and that he will fight us
every step of the way," Streff said. "He's been fighting us for 15 years."
Monday's outcome fell short of protesters' expectations, many of whom have been following activity on the farm for months and in some cases years, said Gina Benson, who led the protest group and runs an equine rescue and youth ranch in Wisconsin. Members had hoped at least 20 horses would be seized.
"This is not a victory," Benson said. "We feel for the horses that are left here that will not get the care they deserve."
Benson's group, which she said represents about 300 people, grew on Facebook after she got a call from a former employee of Friday's a few months ago. Benson and her son drove up in July to take a look.
"We were devastated," Benson said, adding she was invited onto the farm by one of Friday's employees. "In my 12 years of rescue, I had never seen anything so bad....I saw walking skeletons."
Benson said the horses are being fed less than half of what they need and that the hay they do get has been tested and found to be of very poor quality. Some of the animals likely have parasites, she added, and many rarely see pasture and are kept in close quarters that are not cleaned.
Sharon Riley, one of Friday's two employees who recently quit, called conditions sickening. Of the 71 horses she was in charge of feeding, she said about 25 were underweight, and five to 10 were in a state of emergency.
During her two years at the farm, she saw seven horses buried, many in their stalls.
"It's heartbreaking," Riley said. "It got to a point where you don't know what to say or do."
It wasn't that way when she first arrived, Riley added, but things worsened over time.
"These horses are dropping weight like crazy," she said.
The veterinarians assessed the horses Monday using the Henneke equine scale, which measures their condition on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being near death and 10 being grossly obese. Optimum horses score 5; the two removed scored a 2. The remaining eight scored a 3, Streff said.
Jeff Johnson, one of the vets onsite Monday, last visited the farm in July.
He would only generalize about the condition of the rest of the horses: "In the time this property has been evaluated, there has been a concerning decline... I am concerned about a good number of them."
Streff said his office seizes horses when they hit the 2 mark on the Henneke scale. The intense heat and humidity this summer may have pushed some of the horses to that point.
He last visited the farm in February.
There is only so much his office could do, Streff said.
The two animals removed will be taken to the University of Minnesota for examination. Streff said he would use those findings to acquire a search warrant to return for a closer look at the remaining horses. His office found 64 horses on the farm Monday. Protesters say there are 71.
Streff said he also would forward the reports, along with his own investigation results, to the East Bethel city attorney to review for criminal charges. He also plans to recommend the East Bethel City Council revoke or at least not renew Friday's permit.
Benson said her group would keep working until more action is taken. Several members arrived with horse trailers Monday in hopes they could take some of the neglected animals home with them.
"This does not end today," she said.
Distributed by MCT Information Services