Horse News

NM Horse Slaughter Dealer Dodged Bullet in Past

By Colleen Heild / Journal Investigative Reporter of the ABQJournal
Dennis Chaves May Not Be That Lucky This Time Around

             The 35 to 40 horses were destined for slaughter, but many already appeared half-dead

photo by Animal's Angels

Crammed into a small pen, they were so emaciated their hip and rib bones were showing. Some were crippled, and others listless with swollen jaws consistent with equine distemper, according to interviews and sheriff’s reports. Witnesses reported no food or water in the pen, located in Albuquerque’s South Valley.

A Bernalillo County deputy, with help from the District Attorney’s Office, filed 16 counts of animal cruelty and neglect against the owner of the horses, Dennis V. Chavez.

That was more than 20 years ago.

Now that same Dennis V. Chavez faces new allegations of animal cruelty and neglect involving horses at his Los Lunas livestock auction business in a case that has made international news.

Chavez prevailed in 1991. All but one of the 16 misdemeanor counts were dismissed, and he was acquitted of the remaining charge.

“I remember the deal,” Chavez said in a brief phone interview on Friday, “and for sure, I’m not guilty this time.”

Back in 1990, then-BCSO Deputy Jeannie Webb was relatively new to the job when she launched the investigation.

“I prepared as good as I knew how,” said Webb, who retired in 2004. “I didn’t know near what I knew later on about animal cruelty cases.”

Seizing the sick and starving horses wasn’t possible. And the evidence collected was problematic, former assistant district attorney Loretta Lopez said recently.

The prosecution was “jinxed,” Lopez recalled, and most of the ailing horses were gone by the time she inherited the case.

“I had no way to prosecute it; it’s kind of like trying to prosecute for damage to a ghost,” she said. “What a perfect crime, you know. You get to slaughter the evidence.”

New Allegations

This time around, there is a different investigative agency and a different prosecutor.

The state Livestock Board launched an inquiry last month after representatives from a national livestock welfare group videotaped four suffering downed horses at Chavez’s Southwest Livestock Auction — and begged auction workers to put them out of their misery.

Myles Culbertson, the board’s executive director, said last week he wasn’t aware of the prior case against Chavez in Bernalillo County.

Livestock Board Deputy Director Robert Pierce told the Journal his agency has no prior written complaints or investigations of Chavez or his Los Lunas business.

But he added, “we’ve gotten phone call complaints.”

“Most of what I heard from out there, it’s not a real pretty situation out there,” Pierce said last week. “They have taken colts off mares too early, but there’s really no laws broken; it’s just morally and ethically wrong.”

District Attorney Lemuel Martinez in Valencia County said the matter is still under review. But he has warned that because of a lack of resources, another agency would have to prosecute any misdemeanor charges filed.

Chavez, 53, said on Friday that he has been in contact with attorneys and declined to comment about the videotape or the specific allegations.

“When this all gets sorted out there will be absolutely no question that we didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “It’s just the nature of the business; some of that stuff can’t be helped.”

The International Equine Business Association released a statement last week praising Chavez and denouncing “this vicious, uncalled for public vilification” of him.

“Dennis Chavez and Southwest Livestock deserve appreciation and support for the care and feeding of otherwise doomed horses,” the association said in a letter.


Janet Goldberg said she isn’t a member of an organized animal welfare group, but wanted to rescue horses she heard were being held at Chavez’s DC Livestock Auction on Broadway SE in 1989.

Goldberg, a Placitas resident, said in a recent interview that she bought two ailing horses, but only one survived.

The first horse was a small young gray filly who was very thin and barely able to stand because one front leg was hanging useless. The opposite rear leg was wounded, according to a statement she gave to the sheriff’s department back then.

On the way home, she took the filly to a veterinarian, who diagnosed a broken shoulder and ended up euthanizing the animal. The second filly she bought from Chavez showed signs of equine distemper but recovered and Goldberg gave her away.

“I was pretty disgusted and disillusioned (at the outcome of the 1990 prosecution against Chavez),” she said last week. “I thought it was just awful what’s happening here in New Mexico.”

Though horses in Chavez’s custody were primarily bound for slaughterhouses, they were “subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment, given just enough sustenance to stay alive and have no veterinary care, prior to shipping them to their death,” BCSO Deputy Webb wrote in an April 1990 report.

Slaughterhouses only accept live horses, and the USDA has set up standards for their transport that require they receive food and water before and after.

Back in 1990, Chavez maintained he wasn’t responsible for the condition of the horses because he had just come into possession of them, former prosecutor Lopez recalled last week.

There were no ownership records to disprove that, Lopez said, and some of the evidence collected was less than desirable.

Photos of the ailing horses and their living conditions weren’t time stamped. And it was difficult to prove which horse was which.

“At the time I didn’t have a fancy camera to get good zoom pictures,” Webb said recently, during an interview from her home in Colorado.

Seizing the horses was out of the question, Webb said, because the sheriff’s department had no trailer to transport them, no place to hold them and no funds to pay for their keep.

Lopez said she was assigned the case, originally handled by another prosecutor, months after the charges were filed.

“When we took a tour out there, there were a couple of horses standing around in a dirt field,” she said. “All of these animals that were so badly abused and neglected weren’t there.”

There were horses that had been destroyed “that there had been no pictures of, that there had been no documentation for,” she said.

Of the one or two sick and starved horses that remained as part of the case, the prosecution “had no proof that any of these animals weren’t delivered to him in that fashion,” Lopez added.

“He had an excuse with every single element of the few charges we could put together.”

Asked whether the Livestock Board could have helped in the investigation, former deputy Webb scoffed, “They were worthless, they were absolutely worthless.”

Her report stated that a Livestock Board supervisor took a veterinarian to examine the horses and found no evidence of abuse.

The Albuquerque Metro Court file on the case has been destroyed.

Video uproar

Back in 1990, it was the Albuquerque-based Alliance Against Animal Abuse that complained to the sheriff’s department about the health of Chavez’s horses.

The news media was contacted and aired stories, complete with videotape of the horses.

“There was quite an uproar about it,”said Lopez, now a family law attorney.

This time, the videotape by Animals’ Angels unleashed a furor and calls for action from around the world.

The equine business association said last week that Chavez and his family have been the target of hate mail and death threats.

The association said its own investigation showed “an alarming picture of special interest group stalking and harassment of a legitimate livestock business.”

The association said it “works to protect the international horse industry, and to promote the use of horses and equine products in commercial enterprises.”

So far, the Livestock Board inquiry has been limited to the four dying horses seen downed and struggling in the March 10 video. Animals’ Angels reported finding multiple other horses in bad condition that day.

They alleged horses had untreated wounds, open cuts, infections, eye injuries or were lame or emaciated.

The equine association said the four dying horses in the videotape were in a “hospital pen” and not up for auction.

Animals’ Angels says its representatives had to beg the auction management and a Livestock Board inspector to euthanize the four horses that day. The inspector, they contended, refused to interrupt the horse auction occurring elsewhere on the premises. Finally, an auction worker agreed to shoot three of the horses; the fourth had already died.

More training needed

The state Livestock Board has 57 inspectors, of which 24 are certified law enforcement officers.

Animals’ Angels blamed inspector B.J. Winchester for allowing the “obvious suffering of the horses” on March 10 and contend he should have inspected them and initiated cruelty charges against Chavez.

Pierce said Winchester has no law enforcement authority because he is a brand inspector, who inspects animals coming and leaving a livestock auction for proof of ownership. Such inspectors also look for health problems in those animals.

On March 10, Winchester was working at the nearby horse auction, livestock board officials say.

He is on paid administrative leave pending a personnel inquiry into the allegations by Animals’ Angels.

Even before the Los Lunas case surfaced, Pierce said the Livestock Board realized more staff training was needed.

For instance, Pierce said the livestock board has an investigation under way in Alamogordo “and the inspector probably hasn’t worked a case for five years.” So a supervisor was asked to assist.

With animal cruelty complaints on the increase in New Mexico, Pierce said “we need more training on how to act on it. We’re all somewhat sentimental, and we’d rather make a responsible horse owner out of it than to go to court on a criminal charge.”

Pierce said his agency is also installing an electronic records system, “that will enable us at the office to see what’s happening out there quicker, to make sure we’re getting the proper paperwork in here.”

Webb, who was riding Pearl, her palomino quarter horse, during the recent Journal phone interview, said she has no regrets about pursuing the case 22 years ago.

“These guys (horses), they don’t have anybody to speak for them. I think it’s our obligation, if we’ve got the power to do something, we should do it.”

— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

25 replies »

  1. The excuses from EVERYBODY, barring the folks REALLY trying to help the animals are just plain pathetic and disgusting.

    I’m a little confused with this article because of the multiple time line references and jumping around.

    p.s. Hey $$….print, publish the hate mail and especially the death threats! You can’t throw that kind of language around and NOT PROVE IT!


  2. I still don’t get how the anti-horse group can fall into a bucket of poo and come out with a new suit. Amazing the number of lame excuses offered while those horses suffer and die…Change cannot come soon enough! And this time, I hope they hang him.


  3. Absolutely unbelievable that Chavez has gotten away with cruelty for this long. You know that this has been going on consistently for 20 years. It’s not that it happened once 20 years ago and has just now begun again. It’s been going on all along and how many horses have suffered at his hands? Countless.

    This man needs to be removed from civilization. He doesn’t qualify as civilized. Nor does Sue Wallis and her small band of cronies. I’m not sure what to do with them yet but…turn about is fair play!


  4. One member of an Equus discussion group that worked at a slaughterhouse told me about how the slaughterhouses cut the throats of horses while they are alive so they bleed out to make the horse meat actually taste better.
    This is really sad to butcher a horse while it is breathing just so some European or Japanese diners get to eat better tasting American horses. That is revolting. It is one thing to put an old horse or sick horse down or to give up your horses due to the economy , but to make them suffer just to have them taste better???? Come on everybody. Get on board this train and tell the pro slaughter folks to get a job in NYC so they are as far away from horses as possible. Just don’t let them work helping kids or mothers with unborn babies. Who knows what they would do to people. People who abuse animals often abuse kids. Maybe their horses would want to get far away from them too.
    Their are no bullies on this earth who can change the minds of animal lovers. Where are all of you to back this up?


  5. Ah Mr Pierce, your state could care less. You say your staff needs more training, but you can’t teach humans to gave compassion for animals with no voice. I’m one of the complaints, via email and phone. Your public information person K Goetz was very obnoxious and uncaring, dismissing my concerns and telling me to read the “Journal” if I wanted to follow the story. You need a new staff, not retraining!


  6. “Pierce said Winchester has no law enforcement authority because he is a brand inspector, who inspects animals coming and leaving a livestock auction for proof of ownership. Such inspectors also look for health problems in those animals.” – So why is this Winchester on PAID leave? NM taxpayers bend over for this? If these horses arrived in such bad condition then the owners(or drivers) who dropped them off should have been charged with cruelty, once Chavez takes posession he is responsible. Pray these snakes don’t slither through this time around. They should be castrated with no meds in a filthy pen. This is just one example of the inherent cruelty of the slaughter pipeline. If/when HR2966/S1176 get voted into law, this place will have no reason to exist.


    • These people are an insult to snakes; snakes DO serve a purpose. It would appear the humans in charge of coddling this perpetual mess SERVE NO PURPOSE!


  7. How much with the excuses already starting and the attacks on horse welfare advocates, that this good, old, evil boy gets away with this again. Anyone with a brain knows that this behavior has been consistent. Even the sheriff admits they’ve had phone calls. Question is did they do anything about the phone calls……….bet my bottom dollar they sat in their comfy chair, in the a/c, chewing on their toothpick and never did a damned thing about those phone calls. The good old boy syndrome once again………..


  8. I do believe it is time this man went out of business. Isn’t it funny in this economy so many respectable businesses of good people went under, yet people like this continue to operate. I think there needs to be a concerted, unified, persistent, relenteless effort to get this man shut down for good. If social networking can oust a dictator or 2 or 3 in the middle east, certainly it can get this hideous man’s business shut down.


  9. Amen to all of the above and anything else that gets said on here. It cannot be bad enough, there cannot be words bad enough, to describe Dennis Chavez, the entire Livestock Board and managers and employees,Sue Wallis and the ridiculous International Equine Business crap society.

    It is obvious to anyone with half a brain that Chavez has operated a substandard, cruel and unfeeling operation for years and years. He was able to do this because the Livestock Board winked at cruelty,winked at abuse and neglect and made such ridiculous statements as the one by Mr.Pierce as to the fact that they are” somewhat sentimental and want to make responsible horse owners of people.”

    Mr Pierce, what is it about Dennis Chavez that makes you think he could ever be a “responsible horse owner”? The man only “owns” horses long enough to get them to Mexico and take their lives to put money in his filthy pocket.

    Anyone reading the statements given by all of the idiots in New Mexico who are trying to justify this outrageous behavior can only laugh or cry…it is beyond all comprehension that those people actually believe what they are saying!

    I am not sending any death threats or horrible messages. I am saying that Dennis Chavez is an animal abuser and has no soul.

    I am saying that Pierce and the entire Livestock Board is a joke and are not capable of supervising a herd of lizards.

    I am saying that the veterinarians that have worked with these people over the years must be real hard hearted men to just wimp along with what has been happening. They evidently have no balls because they did not stand up to the money grubbing Chavez or the completely corrupt and useless Livestock Board. A veterinarian should be a champion for humane treatment of animals, not wink at cruelty or ignore it.

    So there, put all of that in your filthy pipes and smoke it, all of you, and you know who you are.


    • Greyfel, couldn’t have said it better! New Mexico, we’re calling you out on this sub level behavior at tax payers expense and the lives of thousands of horses.


  10. Dennis Chavez and everyone just like him should be put out of business for torturing horses. I don’t know why horses are considered “livestock” because they are not born to be eatten in the USA. I believed that horses are born to be a pet or free. You feed and care for a horse and train it, not so he/she goes to slaughter. This is heartbreaking and the horse ends up at these auction houses and winds up in bad health and sick. The horses do not start out in bad condition. It is because of the slaughter pipeline with their extreme neglect they end up sick. Everyone like Chavez are the ones making horses sick from neglect.


  11. Hospital pens ?? On plain dirt without shelter ? Leaving the animals with open wounds unprotected ? What sort of hospital is that ???


  12. Above, denwind2012 commented, rightly, that there are “no bullies on earth that can change the minds of animal lovers.”

    That reminds me of this encouraging statement: “It requires courage to utter truth; for the higher Truth raises her voice, the louder will error scream, until its inarticulate sound is forever silenced in oblivion.” (Mary Baker Eddy)

    Seems like we’ve reached a fever pitch of loud screams, loud denunciations, loud denials from the equines’ enemy. That means, to me, that the insane, immoral, inarticulate advocacy of horse slaughter is inching steadily closer to oblivion.


  13. @Patty Hamilton – Horses are in this predicament because no animal should ever be considered “born to be eaten”. In some countries cows are sacred in others dogs and cats considered “born to be eaten”. Pigs are smarter than horses yet most people appalled by the idea of horses being slaughtered for food think nothing of how pigs are raised and slaughtered. The life of animals shouldn’t be subordinated to how we value or how we relate to them. How can one extend compassion to one specie and not to another is beyond me. Its not about us. Its about them.


    • I think a fair number of readers of this blog agree with you in both theory and practice, Catherine. Perhaps they hesitate to say so for fear of detracting from our efforts to pass the bill banning horse slaughter. I admire anyone who shares your conviction. Hopefully it’s helpful to raise such points once in a while, lest we get too proud of being “for” horses while ignoring other equally sentient, equally intelligent, equally loved-by-their-creator individuals who happen to be members of other species. As you point out, “It’s not about us. It’s about them.”

      That said, I realize we’re all concentrating here and now on exposing and weeding out the abusers of our companion animals — namely, the wonderful horses. I’m grateful there are activists elsewhere who are defending the wonderful pigs, wonderful cows, wonderful chickens, wonderful goats, and more.


      • BlessUsAll – thank you and I’ll stop my rhetoric :0
        It is just that once in a while statements such as the one in the post I was responding to have the same effect than a match near leaking gas.. its akin to saying its ok to brutalize boys but not girls. I’ll get off the subject. Sorry for the interruption. Let’s go back to help horses and put away murderers.


    • Am I correct that you are a vegetarian? If you are, fine, great, good for you. But many aren’t and still believe animals, nature and humans should be treated with dignity….let’s work on that, first.


      • Denise, yes I am and I agree with you that all should be treated with dignity. Animals are not allowed any “dignity” from conception to death to every step in between. People who rise up to help this or that specie is a step in the right direction because the more voices the more power but the fact remains that it is hypocritical and opponents may be justified in pointing this out and it plays right into their game. Who the heck are we as a specie to decide whose life is more valuable. If tomorrow aliens invaded us and we became their food staple and they raped us, impregnated us, confined us, beat us, probed us, transported us, separated us from our babies as we do today to animals… would that make it morally and ethically acceptable? where would the dignity be? and is dignity more important than the right to one’s life? “All beings tremble before violence. All fear death, all love life. See yourself in others. Then whom can you hurt? What harm can you do?” Buddha


      • One step at a time Catherine… step at a time.

        While I do eat meat, cheese and eggs (verifiable organic, local, etc) , I believe the factory farming of today is doomed, for many reasons. We need to make smarter choices for the future because the land, resources and health of both AND humans is unsustainable at this economic model.

        And I disagree with you about ALL animals from birth to death not treated with dignity. However, I understand your position. I don’t buy PeTA’s line of extremism either.


  14. I live in NM and recently obtained a horse I know to have been bound for slaughter in Mexico. I live on the border. The NMLinspector says that is untrue. He has several scars that are clean edged and about the same width as my buck knife. He has whip marks on his back and hind quarters and the worse is he has been blinded. He is the sweetest boy and loves to be loved. Why anyone would put him in that situation who spent the time riding him and loving him then the throw him away to be tortured is awful. Dennis Chavez is one of many but he is the kingpin of transporting horses for slaughter. he hires unlicensed drivers and illegals. I’m not sure the arse is even all that legal himself. He needs to be brought down and the NMLB needs to be revamped and retrained.

    And the fact they say they would rather keep the horses in homes, is bull. cross them and find out how much they want you to keep your horses.


    • Tawny, I just want to cry when I read about horses such as the one you describe. It is the most evil thing I can imagine. I read another story about a blind pony that was rescued out of a Canadian slaughterhouse. The pony was terrified, of course. I cannot see how man can be so callous and evil and it makes me want to kick some butt real hard.

      As for Chavez and the bozos of the Livestock Board, what chumps! They aren’t fooling anyone and they think that they are going to continue their evil and lazy ways.
      I think this time they went over the line and it will be the end of their evil doings.

      We must keep on this and make sure it doesn’t fade away because that is what they are hoping.
      I’m so glad you have that horse in a good home now.


    • Dear Horse Saver:
      Reading your post brings tears to my eyes and wish there were more people like youself to save the horses that need good people to take them. It appears that the border states are the worst with the bad treatment of horses. I live in Connecticut and take care of some horses and find they are a pleasure to be around. God bless you and the blinded horse.


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