MADISON, Wis. (CN) - Animal-welfare authorities euthanized a mammoth donkey named Jethro and let a prized Arabian horse die of malnutrition, a federal complaint alleges.
Patricia and Dwight Westmore sued Ashland County, along with individual police and animal control officers, on Friday over the investigation nearly a year ago of their ranch in Butternut.
"This was, in my view, outrageous from the beginning," Glenn Stoddard, an attorney for the Westmores, said in an interview.
The complaint says that the Westmores had 19 horses as well as Jethro when a woman with a "horse-rescue organization" complained to the county.
Since it was late December, the Westmores had allegedly let their animals grow thick hair to accommodate the cold weather.
They kept their oldest horse, named Sierra Ibn Blacky, "outside on the advice of a veterinarian, rather than inside a warm barn, because Blacky had been diagnosed with a borderline COPD medical condition and did not do well when kept inside a warm barn," the complaint states.
The Westmores say they let David Hyde, an unlicensed assistant humane officer for the county, onto their property for a warrantless search of their property on Dec. 26.
Hyde returned with Deputy Terri Provost the next morning with the intention "to take two horses and possibly put down a sick donkey," the complaint states.
By the time two veterinarians arrived, "Jethro was sleeping soundly, which was characteristic after he had eaten and taken his antibiotic, Uniprim," the Westmores claim.
They say 6-year-old Jethro was recovering from an injury but was expected "to do just fine" since he walked after being taken out his sling a couple of days earlier.
The veterinarians nevertheless euthanized Jethro over the Westmores' objections, and seized four of their Arabians, including Blacky, according to the complaint.
"When David Hyde and Provost finally left plaintiffs' property on December 27, 2013, they left Jethro dead in plaintiffs' small barn in a pool of his own blood and urine, and they would not tell plaintiffs where the four horses had been taken or whether plaintiffs would even be charged with any type of crime or misdemeanor," the complaint states. "They also refused to tell plaintiffs about any type of procedures or hearings that plaintiffs could invoke to recover their four horses."
The Westmores said their warnings about Blacky's condition went unheeded, with the officers promising to keep all four horses in a warm barn.
They say animal control officer Callae Hyde, the wife of the officer from the search, refused over the next few months to divulge where the seized horses had been brought.
A few weeks after Patricia Westmore petitioned for the return of her animals in March 2014, the county charged her with four misdemeanor counts of mistreating animals.
The Westmores learned in May that Blacky had died of malnutrition while in county custody. They claim the horse's corpse revealed that the county had not groomed or cared for the animal after taking it into custody.
Patricia Westmore says she paid the county more than $3,000 to take back her animals and signed a judgment in her criminal case that requires "expensive follow-up veterinary check-ups for all of their remaining horses once every eight (8) weeks for 18 months."
One of the three horses that Ashland returned was thin and undernourished, according to the complaint.
Stoddard says his clients have been complying with the court-ordered vet visits. He declined to provide the contact information for the couple.
"This was a shameful miscarriage of justice, and as it progressed, instead of trying to rectify it and correct the errors that were made and the clearly intentional harm that was done, the county dug its heels in," Stoddard said.
The plaintiffs seek punitive damages for violations of the Fourth, Fifth and 15th Amendments.
The Westmores are horse rescuers, Stoddard said, who rescue elderly horses before they are slaughtered in order to "give them a good home."