Statement from the Humane Society of the United States – South Dakota
Statement Regarding the Situation at International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros (ISPMB) in Landry SD
For several years, the HSUS invested time and financial resources in population control solutions at ISPMB by both providing teams annually to administer the Porcine Zona Pellucida fertility control drug, and hay donations. During these several years, HSUS staff counseled Karen Sussman that her herds were too big to be supported on the land she had. Even when ISPMB chose to discontinue the fertility control program, HSUS offered herd population management suggestions, and options for onsite gelding. Further, HSUS introduced ISPMB to Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, which offers support, certification, and accreditation to animal sanctuaries and rescues around the world.
Unfortunately, in 2012 HSUS was forced to cut ties when ISPMB leaders failed to follow our recommendations and take action necessary to manage population growth. While Ms. Sussman continued to plead for assistance to feed her growing herds she repeatedly rejected any assistance to stabilize it. HSUS determined that continuing to assist Ms. Sussman would only lead to more animals in her care and greater suffering.
In April 2016, upon receiving a cruelty complaint about worsening conditions at ISPMB, our South Dakota State Director, Darci Adams, traveled to the ISPMB facility and, based on her observations, contacted the South Dakota Animal Industry Board’s State Veterinarian directly to request a check on the animals’ condition. At that time, the State Veterinarian replied to HSUS that they were aware of the situation and local law enforcement was driving by daily. The HSUS does not have law enforcement authority, so we directed those with complaints and concerns to the SD Animal Industry Board’s State Veterinarian and the Dewey and Ziebach County Sheriff Departments, as they are the agencies with ultimate authority in this matter.
In October 2016, law enforcement took action after an ISPMB employee posted photos to social media of sick and starving horses – including nearly 30 animals that had died – at ISPMB. The State’s Attorneys in Dewey and Ziebach counties entered into an agreement with ISPMB whereby ISPMB agreed to the voluntary impoundment of the horses on ISPMB property while the case was investigated. According to this agreement, until December 1st, ISPMB would reduce the population through voluntary adoptions. After December 1, 2016, the agreement stated the State would determine how many horses could be allowed to stay at ISPMB and how many would be sold at public auction, with the proceeds from the sale being paid first to the counties to cover the expenses of impoundment, and any remaining proceeds paid to ISPMB.
For the sake of the horses, HSUS and the Homes for Horses Coalition supported this adoption effort. Elaine Nash with Fleet of Angels was asked by the Dewey County State’s Attorney to facilitate adoptions, and HSUS made resources and manpower available to Fleet of Angels to support the adoption efforts. As of late November approximately 125 horses had been adopted.
While the HSUS does not currently have the capacity in its animal care facilities for these additional horses, we are supporting the efforts of reputable wild horse rescue organizations who have offered to take and care for a substantial portion of those horses. We remain hopeful that Ms. Sussman will allow the transfer of her horses to these facilities.
Under its agreement with the local authorities, ISPMB could be allowed to maintain horses after the December 1st deadline. Unfortunately, and despite the urging of The HSUS to the contrary, the state has thus far put no restrictions in place that will prevent ISPMB from continuing to breed animals. Furthermore, it is likely that most of the mares are pregnant and dozens of foals will be born this spring. In other words, regardless of how many horses are adopted and/or dispersed through auction, ISPMB will be allowed to continue to accumulate and breed horses on its property and thus we have reason to expect to be faced with this same tragic situation again at some point in the future.
Therefore, while the adoption efforts are vitally important to the horses currently under ISPMB’s care, their relocation will not solve the underlying organizational issues which perpetuated this cycle of neglect. It is vital that we prevent this situation from occurring again, and that will only happen if ISPMB is required to discontinue the breeding of its horses.
For this reason, HSUS focused its efforts in late November on communicating our concerns to State Authorities and urging them to impose conditions to prevent a recurrence of this situation. Specifically, we have asked the State’s Attorney for both counties and the South Dakota Attorney General to require ISPMB to stop breeding horses. We hope that with such restrictions in place, if allowed to continue to keep any horses, ISPMB will be left with a sustainable non-breeding population of horses.
Pursuant to ISPMB’s agreement with local authorities, on December 1 the unadopted horses at ISPMB were seized by the county. State law requires the horses be sold at public auction because they have value as “livestock” in South Dakota. ISPMB, by and through Karen Sussman, agreed to this stipulation; the counties will receive monies to recoup their impoundment expenses, and the balance of the sale proceeds will go to ISPMB. While law enforcement has agreed to allow pending adoptions for another 260 horses to be completed in coming weeks, this leaves another 400 to 500 horses at ISPMB still in peril. The HSUS is aware that reputable wild horse rescue organizations have offered to take and care for a substantial portion of those horses, yet Ms. Sussman has refused to allow that to happen.
The HSUS is strongly opposed to the slaughter of horses for human consumption, and we are deeply saddened that Ms. Sussman’s choices have put the horses at risk of being purchased at auction by kill buyers.
Furthermore, The HSUS is disappointed that criminal animal neglect charges were not filed by the authorities in this case. Criminal proceedings could have provided an opportunity for all remaining horses to be forfeited and placed for adoption, and might well have culminated in an order preventing Ms. Sussman from caring for horses in the future, and also preventing any further breeding or acquisition of horses.
We continue to support efforts by the wild horse rescue community to adopt as many horses as possible.