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Tuesday, May 1, 2012County: Dane
Disposition: Not Charged
Case Images: 2 files available
Person of Interest: Mary Loeffelholz
Case Updates: 1 update(s) available
As she led an emaciated horse she once owned from a farm that authorities have been watching for signs of neglect, Michelle Werry said another horse with little meat on its bones walked up and gently rested its chin on her arm.
"It was heartbreaking," an emotional Werry said Friday, days after finding the whereabouts and condition of the two horses she and her husband, Glenn, gave to a friend many years ago.
Mary Loeffelholz, who rents the farm on Highway D near Belleville, didn't give permission to the Werrys and another couple, Desiree and Scott De-Vries, to take four horses Thursday, and they didn't get far with them in their two trailers.
Loeffelholz was alerted to the horses' removal and contacted Dane County sheriff's deputies, who quickly caught up to the couples and made them return with the horses.
The county's animal control specialist, alerted by neighbors and passers-by, has been investigating Loeffelholz and her farm since as far back as 2008. They repeatedly warned her to improve the living conditions for her animals, which also have included donkeys, chickens, ducks and dogs. A 2008 order requiring her to provide quality food, plentiful water and regular veterinary care expired in May 2011.
By this week, conditions at the farm had deteriorated, according to some of those same neighbors and passers-by who again have been alerting county officials. Though the horses were in pastures set back from the road, open wounds, bony hindquarters and protruding ribs were visible on some.
Loeffelholz has repeatedly declined to comment.
This spring, Madison attorney Cynthia Fiene and her aide, Susan Washebeck, took up the cause of the animals, trying to put pressure on Loeffelholz and county officials to improve conditions on the farm by contacting media and creating a website with pictures of the animals.
Patrick Comfert, lead animal services worker for Madison and Dane County, said the best the county can do is issue a new order requiring Loeffelholz to provide more comprehensive veterinarian treatment, give animal control officers more access to the horses and prove there is always food on site for more than one day.
It's an arduous task for the county to get to the point where it can seize animals, county officials said. First, the cost of boarding, feeding and caring for so many large animals "is an issue," said Doug Voegeli, county environmental health director.
Second, Comfert said, it's hard for the county to prove to a judge the horses should be seized. He could remember just three times in his 25 years as an animal control specialist when the county seized horses.
"The legal process is a slow one," Comfert said. "But it's the process we have to follow."
The Werrys, who have homes near Peoria, Ill., and Middleton, don't believe enough is being done and have sought help from experts at the UW-Madison veterinary school and the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
"We'll keep pursuing this for the sake of all the animals there," Werry said. "We'll pursue it until somebody recognizes this is not OK."
Fiene recently sent a letter to Desiree DeVries, a horse trainer near Verona, alerting her to the condition of the horses the DeVries and Werry families had owned. That letter sparked the couples' rescue attempt Thursday.
The DeVrieses had better luck than the Werrys in removing their horse. After convincing Comfert that they indeed owned the horse, it was taken to the Dane County Humane Society on Thursday night. The horse remained in protective custody Friday, Comfert said.
"Those horses are in pain and they are going to die," Scott DeVries said.
"Somebody has to make a ruckus," Werry said. "So that's what we're doing."
|Doug Voegeli chuckled Thursday when he was asked about the estimated 1,000 phone calls and hundreds of emails that Dane County officials received this week from people concerned about the distressed horses in the town of Oregon.|
"It's been interesting," said the county's director for environmental health, who oversees the animal services office. "Effective, too. I'm not going to deny it."
He said the calls and emails pressured the county to move quickly to help the 20 distressed horses owned or cared for by Mary Loeffelholz and kept on property on Highway D near Belleville.
"That pressure has also helped the horse owner realize that something needed to be done and quickly," Voegeli said. "I think that has been done."
Voegeli said Loeffelholz has relinquished ownership of 15 of her horses. Seven were seized Tuesday night and taken to a foster farm under the auspices of the Dane County Humane Society; two others are at the Humane Society.
Six other horses have been given to two of Loeffelholz's family members - one near Belleville and another near New Glarus - with strict orders that they can't be given back to her.
All of the horses will be closely watched by animal control specialists for a long time, Voegeli said. That's particularly true for the five horses still owned by Loeffelholz, who must follow strict orders written by the county, Voegeli said.
"If those five horses show more signs of distress or signs that they haven't been adequately cared for, then we will use that abatement order to remove them as quickly as possible," Voegeli said.
Loeffelholz has repeatedly declined to comment.
Michelle Werry, who learned last week that three Saddlebreds that her family had given to a trusted friend many years ago had ended up on Loeffelholz's property, said the county has done some good work for the horses this week.
"I am satisfied with the horses that have been removed from the property," said Werry, who took the three horses from the property without Loeffelholz's permission on May 3 but was forced by county officials to return them.
"It's my understanding that (Loeffelholz) has a big family and some are capable of taking care of horses," Werry added. "I know a few years ago when they went to her sister they came right back to her. But I've been assured that won't happen again.
"So I'm letting them do their work right now," she said. "If the horses are in the Humane Society's hands, they are in great hands."
Dane County Executive Joe Parisi sent Werry an email Thursday that said the county has hired a veterinarian to conduct thorough evaluations of the remaining horses on the property and that Loeffelholz is responsible for following through on any recommendations made by the veterinarian.
Update posted on May 10, 2012 - 10:26PM
- madison.com - May 5, 2012
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