Troubled Wild Horse & Burro Sanctuary Must Handle its own Adoptions, Sheriff Says

as published in The Rapid City Journal

“…Sussman has been emailing supporters and asking them to donate toward a $150,000 fundraising campaign to help return horses to the society’s ranch, which is only 665 acres and is badly overgrazed…”

too-weak-to-standThe sheriff managing a wild-horse sanctuary’s impounded animals in north-central South Dakota said Thursday that horse adoptions must be handled by the embattled sanctuary president, who has apparently received a deadline extension as she tries to get some horses back.

Dewey County Sheriff Les Mayer has been overseeing the care and feeding of 810 horses at the ranch of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros near Lantry. The horses were impounded at the ranch after a judge’s order on Oct. 7, following a state veterinarian’s finding that the horses were being neglected and allegations by a former ranch employee that some horses were starving to death.

The impounding order included a set of conditions under which the society’s president, Karen Sussman, could seek the return of the horses. She reportedly met an Oct. 21 deadline to draft and deliver a comprehensive ranch management plan, in which she reportedly sought the return of 400 horses to her control, according to Sheriff Mayer.

The state’s attorneys of Dewey and Ziebach counties, who are handling legal aspects of the impounding, have failed to return calls and emails from the Journal for the past several weeks. The two counties share a border that is straddled by the society’s ranch.

The impounding order set another deadline of today for Sussman to produce evidence that she has enough funding or feed for the next 18 months. Mayer said that deadline has apparently been extended to Dec. 1 following a meeting this week involving Sussman, the state’s attorneys and a state veterinarian.

Mayer also said the county governments will not lead or participate in the adoption of horses. He previously said he was compiling a list of potential adopters to consult after today’s deadline, when the counties would take over the adoption process. On Thursday, he said that action was the result of his misunderstanding of the terms of the impounding order.

All adoptions will instead go through Sussman, Mayer said, and inquires should be directed to her. He provided her email address,

The local prosecutors and the state Animal Industry Board will meanwhile consider the adequacy of Sussman’s management plan. They will use their judgment of the plan, paired with the extent to which Sussman meets the Dec. 1 deadline to produce 18 months of feed or funding, to determine how many horses to put back in Sussman’s care.

Any horses not returned to Sussman following the Dec. 1 deadline will be put up for public auction, probably to buyers for foreign slaughter plants, with the proceeds directed to the counties to pay their impounding costs. Those costs so far total about $80,000, Mayer said, mostly from hay purchases.

A community of wild-horse enthusiasts around the country has been encouraging adoptions of the horses, largely through the use of social media. Mayer said Sussman has allowed about 55 horses to be adopted so far. Some in the online community have also called for criminal animal neglect charges against Sussman.

Meanwhile, Sussman has been emailing supporters and asking them to donate toward a $150,000 fundraising campaign to help return horses to the society’s ranch, which is only 665 acres and is badly overgrazed.