BABCOCK - Prosecutors have yet to file charges nearly three months after an emaciated horse found by the side of the road died from starvation.
"Allowing a horse to slowly starve to death, as Roy had been, is by definition cruel and inhumane," Dr. Gary Johnson, a veterinarian with Corriente Veterinary Service inPlover, wrote in a report submitted Oct. 12 to the Wood County District Attorney's Office.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Zell, who has been assigned the horse's case, said he has not had time to decide whether to file charges against Roy's owner because of a heavy workload that dictates priorities.
In the meantime, Karen and Scott Bayerl, directors of Midwest Horse Welfare Foundation in Pittsville, say they are worried about what will happen to another horse still in the care of Roy's former owner. Members of the horse rescue group are worried that prosecutors may think the case is too difficult to charge, Karen Bayerl said. The Bayerls want Roy's former owner charged soon to ensure the safety of the second horse.
A veterinarian said Roy had no muscle left and was barely able to stand by the time he was rescued. He died less than a week later. (Photo: Photo courtesy Nancy Olson)
Wood County Humane Officer Nanci Olson said the second horse was in fine shape and had access to good bales of hay when she saw it in late September, so she had no reason to remove that horse from the owner.
Roy's condition came to light when a Babcock woman, Wendy Savage, found the Appaloosa horse shortly after 2:30 a.m. Sept. 26 wandering on State 80, according to documents the USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin obtained through an open records request to Olson. Savage walked the horse almost two miles to a home belonging to one of her friends and they contacted Wood County emergency dispatchers.
Roy's owner picked him up, but when Olson went to check on him she found Roy and another horse standing nearly knee deep in manure and mud, according to her reports. Roy was emaciated and had rain rot, a type of infection, covering his body and face, the reports said.
The pasture had a water tank and feed bin, which held a little grain. It also had a large, round bale of hay that was black with mold. The owner told Olson that she had been feeding the horses the moldy hay, according to the reports. Olson reported that she saw about two weeks' worth of good hay in a nearby shelter.
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The horse's owner agreed to voluntarily give up Roy, and the Bayerls picked him up the same day. The owner said she couldn't ride Roy anyway, according to the report. USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin has withheld the horse owner's name because she has not been charged with a crime and has not been reached for comment on this story.
The Bayerls brought in Johnson, the veterinarian, to examine Roy and they worked out a treatment program for him. The couple fed Roy hydration hay, which is finely chopped and mixed with water to create a slurry, Scott Bayerl told a USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin reporter.
"Every time we go out to check on (Roy) he gives us a hearty whinny and begs for more, plus his face is covered in the slurry," the couple posted on the organization's Facebook page shortly after Roy's arrival. "He is about as happy as I have ever seen a horse and he is a very likable guy."
Then, on Oct. 2, the couple discovered Roy was down when they went to let him get some sunshine while they cleaned his stall, Scott Bayerl said.
"There was no getting him back up," he said.
The couple tried everything, but Roy's organs already were shut down when he came to the Midwest Horse Welfare Foundation, Scott Bayerl said. They called the veterinarian. Karen Bayerl got Roy a big bowl of food — something they hadn't been able to let him have before because his system couldn't have handled it. She held Roy's head in her lap and let him eat until the veterinarian arrived.
When he first saw Roy, Johnson had scored the horse's body a one on a scale of one to 10, according to the reports. If the scale went any lower, he would have given him that score, according to the report.
"A horse cannot get any skinnier than this and still be standing," Johnson said in the report. "Roy was one of the most severely emaciated horses that I have encountered in my career."
Roy is shown a few days after he was removed from a woman's care in Babcock. (Photo: Photo courtesy Nanci Olson)
Roy had no muscle left and was too weak and undernourished to undergo sedation for dental work, according to the report. Roy was lame in his back leg, but the doctor said he couldn't determine the cause because the horse didn't have enough muscle.
Karen Bayerl gave Olson, the humane officer, a report on Roy's blood work Sept. 28. Roy had no disease that would have caused him to lose weight like he had, according to the report.
"It is horrendous that someone could let an animal literally starve to death like this. ... He is very close to death," Karen Bayerl told Olson, according to the report.
The couple had no choice but to have the horse euthanized when Roy went down and they couldn't get him back up, according to the report. He died on Oct. 2.
Olson filed a request for criminal charges, including a felony charge of mistreating an animal causing death, with the Wood County District Attorney's Office on Oct. 12.
Zell, the assistant DA, said he had not made a charging decision yet on Thursday because he hasn't had time to study the reports.
The Wood County District Attorney's Office has four attorney positions, fewer than half the number it needs to handle its workload, according to a state report that Zell cited. The office has one vacant position, leaving three attorneys to handle the work of what the report states should be about nine people.
Prosecutors have to prioritize their cases based on specific criteria, Zell said. If a defendant is in jail, the case is a priority. Traffic cases get scheduled a court date when they are filed, so those get handled first. A referral that isn't assigned a court date does not have a priority. Zell said he could not discuss the specifics of Roy's case or any open case but said he sympathizes with the people who care about the horse.
"This case and every other case are important and we do our best to get to them as soon as possible, even though it hasn't got a deadline," Zell said.
In the meantime, Scott and Karen Bayerl worry about the other horse still under the care of Roy's owner. The reports state the horse had a cough and Olson directed the owner to seek veterinary care and have the veterinarian send Olson a report. Olson had not received any information about the second horse when she filed her request for charges Oct. 12.
Olson said she called Zell about a week after she filed the request for charges and he explained the workload and staffing situation in the office to her. Read Olson's report and charging request here.
You can contact reporter Karen Madden at 715-424-7308, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @KMadden715.