2 states, 2 recent cases of wild horse deaths in sanctuaries

Dee was a friendly Mustang mare, recently rescued from slaughter by a coordinated effort. She was tortured and killed Saturday night.
Dee was a friendly Mustang mare, recently rescued from slaughter by a coordinated effort. She was tortured and killed Saturday night.

Lauri Armstrong rescues wild horses from slaughter with her husband, Matt. So when one of her rescues, Dee, a good-natured pregnant mare, was found stabbed to death Sunday morning, Armstrong was horrified.

“I feel like I let her down so bad,” Armstrong said. “I taught her people are ok and they're not.”

Dee was found on a bloodied fenced-in field, on the “A Little Piece of Heaven” ranch run by Kimberly Clark near American Falls, where the mare was being held prior to getting adopted that day. Dee had a hole in her head, located on a part of the horse’s skull that is particularly thick and difficult to damage, Armstrong said.

The Power County Sheriff’s Office looking for the person(s) who reportedly stabbed Dee to death. Investigators likely won’t finish the death report for a month, according to an AP report.

The discovery came a week after 11 horses were found dead on a Nevada mustang rescue ranch. But the two incidents don’t share other similarities.

Water supply sabotaged for Nevada horses

A Bureau of Land Management worker discovered that fences along the Elko, Nev., Mustang Monument Spruce Ranch were damaged, and reported it to ranch owner, Madeleine Pickens within the last month, according to an Elko Daily Free Press report.

It was discovered the water supply for the ranch’s horses was also likely sabotaged. Eleven horses were found dead on the property the weekend of Aug. 13, according to a Las Vegas Now Channel 8 report.

Pickens issued a press release offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of suspects in the case.

Pickens’ ranch is the subject of existing controversy. She bought two ranches to open horse sanctuaries at, but does not have a permit to operate a sanctuary from the BLM.

The Nevada Department of Agriculture confirmed to the Elko paper that it was investigating the deaths, but declined to comment while that investigation was ongoing.

“Although we have not determined responsibility, care for animals is ultimately the obligation of the livestock owner,” State Veterinarian JJ Goicoechea said. “We alert all livestock owners to be extra cautious during the excessive heat of the summer months. When temperatures exceed 90 degrees, as they consistently have been in northern Nevada, dehydration can set in fast when livestock do not have access to fresh water sources.”

Rescue of Dee the mustang was a coordinated effort

In Idaho, Armstrong had worked with several organizations, spent about two months and $7,000 to get Dee safely from an overpopulated Washington herd, into the hands of people who could adopt the mare.

“It's this big network of people coming together to make a difference for horses and then this happened,” Armstrong said.

Trappers from the Yakima tribe in Washington are required to keep mustang herds at a healthy population. Since they didn’t have a good birth control program for the herd Dee belonged to, the trapped horses were facing slaughter houses. The trappers didn’t want to see that happen, so they worked with horse rescue organizations in Washington. That’s how Armstrong heard about Dee.

“The trappers we worked with were so happy,” that Armstrong and her husband were able to take Dee in, she said.

Armstrong and her husband worked with Dee for about two months to get her ready for adoption. Dee was wild when she arrived at Armstrong’s ranch. But she left the ranch trusting people, acting sweet, and even occasionally eating out of Armstrong’s hand. They found a qualified rancher to take Dee in, and transported the mare to Clark’s ranch for a few days before she was set to get picked up.

Dee didn’t die quickly Saturday night, Armstrong said.

“I guess she died a horrible painful death,” she said.

There was a large bloody patch on one end of the fenced-in field. That’s where Dee was initially attacked. But she didn’t die from those wounds. She ran across the field, and was followed by her attackers, who continued to inflict harm until she died, Armstrong said. Dee had a wound in her side and her nasal cavity was shattered, according to the AP report.

Now Armstrong is raising money on a GoFundMe page for a reward to find the people who killed Dee. By Thursday morning, the page raised more than $3,000.

She’s also recalling another abuse incident from last year. Just about an hour away from where Dee died is Rupert, where Patches the Shetland pony was brutalized in 2015.

Idaho pony’s abuse case still unsolved

In September 2015 a Rupert pony named Patches was mutilated so badly he had to be euthanized the following day, according to a Times-News report.

The old pony was a pet to Hugo and Daniela Lopez, who had three young children: Ethan, 6, Derrick, 4 and Jacob, 3. The children and their neighbors would ride Patches and the pony helped keep the neighbors’ weeds at bay.

One night an unidentified suspect took the pony and dragged it behind a vehicle for almost a mile and a half. Patches’ eyes were beaten, his skin was slashed from his hindquarters and his abdomen was punctured, according to the report.

A GoFundMe page called “Justice for Patches” brought in around $30,000 to use as a reward for finding the suspects who beat the pony. But the case remains unsolved. A Justice for Patches Facebook page posted about Dee’s killing Tuesday night calling to support Armstrong’s GoFundMe page.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Erin Fenner: 208-377-6207, @erinfenner