By ROY APPLETON of the Dallas News
“…found most of the animals to be underweight and without hay or pasture grass…”
A memorandum alerted the Dallas City Council: The man who will manage the city’s new horse park was charged two years ago with animal cruelty. Publicity was imminent. The city staff was looking into the matter.
“We will report back to you at the conclusion of this review,” Jill Jordan, assistant city manager, wrote to the council on Oct. 14.
The Texas Horse Park, expected to open next year in southern Dallas, will be discussed at a City Council committee meeting on Dec. 9.
The briefing will include a construction update. It may repeat promises of economic and recreation opportunity. It surely will make reference to River Ranch Educational Charities and Equest, the two nonprofits with contracts to operate the park.
It’s unclear whether the city’s animal cruelty review will be publicly discussed, or whether a focus of that cruelty review, Harris Wayne Kirk, the president of River Ranch, will be mentioned.
Control of $12 million
Kirk, 59, is no stranger to big ventures and disputes, according to documents and interviews. And through his nonprofit, he will have the reins to taxpayers’ $12 million investment in an equestrian center near the Trinity River.
He touts his years of caring for and rescuing horses. He blames disgruntled employees for the cruelty complaint against him and brandishes letters of support for his activities.
“I know Wayne Kirk has always nurtured trail horses,” Tambi Arnold, a Melissa High School teacher, wrote in a letter to Jordan. Arnold, a former volunteer at Kirk’s charity ranch in McKinney, added: “The farm animals are taken care of daily throughout the year.”
Two years ago, however, Kirk attracted law enforcement attention after a complaint to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals alleged mistreatment of horses at his nonprofit’s Storybook Ranch in McKinney.
Responding to the complaint, McKinney animal control officer De St. Aubin visited the property on Nov. 21, 2011. He reported that he “found most of the animals to be underweight” and without hay or pasture grass.
The officer wrote that a Storybook Ranch employee, Tammy Locashio, told him Kirk “would not provide adequate supplies to properly care for the animals.” Employees often bought the horses food, she said.
St. Aubin reported that Kirk arrived during his visit. The ranch president “agreed to provide hay at all times and acknowledged that the animals were too thin,” St. Aubin wrote. Kirk also pledged to have his veterinarian contact St. Aubin that day regarding a paint horse with a swollen penis, the officer wrote.
After returning to the ranch the next day, St. Aubin reported that he had not heard from the veterinarian and was told most of the undernourished horses had been moved away. The day after that, he reported, the remaining animals had food. But three days later, Storybook employee Karla Santiago called to tell him the condition of the paint horse had worsened.
St. Aubin wrote in his report that he showed a photograph of the horse to a veterinarian, who said the animal could be suffering from malnutrition and needed immediate attention. The officer filed an animal cruelty complaint against Kirk in McKinney Municipal Court, securing a warrant to seize the horse. On Dec. 14, 2011, Judge Roger Dickey ordered the horse permanently removed from Storybook Ranch. He concluded that Kirk “did not undertake sufficient measures to prevent the horse’s condition from occurring.”
Charged with cruelty
In early 2012, McKinney police pressed a separate misdemeanor charge of “cruelty to livestock animals” against Kirk. That case also involved the paint horse.
Collin County prosecutors accepted the case but later determined that they couldn’t prove, as the charge required, that Kirk “intentionally or knowingly” failed to provide the necessary care for the animal, said John Schomburger, first assistant district attorney. He said investigators had been told the horse received medical attention after St. Aubin’s initial visit to Storybook Ranch.
Kirk said last week that the animal had been “kicked in the penis” by another horse and was properly treated for its injury. Regarding St. Aubin’s written observation that most of the horses at the ranch looked underfed, Kirk said there were “only two horses in jeopardy” when the officer investigated, the one kicked and a rescue animal.
“I’ve had a target on my back because of the Texas Horse Park,” Kirk said. “A lot of people would like to have” the opportunity there.
St. Aubin declined to speak on the record. So did Santiago, who was fired after the judge ordered the horse removed from Storybook Ranch.
Locashio led trail rides, gave riding lessons and managed counselors at the ranch until resigning last year. She said Kirk was aware of his horses’ condition and the shortage of food before the complaint.
“I was feeding them out of my own pocket,” she said. “I was told I was no longer allowed to do that because I didn’t know what I was doing and the horses would be cared for by the owner.”
The underweight horses were moved from Storybook Ranch to Kirk’s QB Ranch in King County. King County Sheriff Gilbert “Cotton” Elliott told McKinney police Cpl. Joel Purser in December 2011 that nine of the horses were “still in bad condition” and without hay at the QB Ranch, Purser reported.
Kirk said this week that the animals were returned to Storybook and remain in service there. He said he is a partner in QB Ranch and oversees its operations in West Texas.
The sheriff also forwarded to Purser a report about 43 elk starving on the QB Ranch during that drought-parched summer. It noted that eight of the elk died when they got bogged in mud trying to get water at a dried tank. Elliott wrote that he told Kirk about a shortage of food and water at the ranch, with its 4,000 fenced acres for exotic game. Kirk said he was never contacted by the sheriff’s department.
The sheriff did not respond to interview requests. Kirk said he and Elliott “don’t get along.” And he disputed the sheriff’s report about the dead elk. “Maybe one or two died, like anything else,” he said. But 43? If that were true, Kirk said, the sheriff “would have prosecuted me.”…(CONTINUED)
Click (HERE) to read the rest of the story and to comment at the Dallas Star
- New Dallas horse park manager faced cruelty charge (khou.com)
- Man Accused Of Animal Cruelty To Run $12-M Horse Park (dfw.cbslocal.com)