The RCMP in Penticton is investigating horse rescuer Theresa Nolet after she allegedly gave medication to free-roaming horses, which made at least one of the animals unfit for human consumption.

Horses have been roaming freely in the South Okanagan for decades.

Many of the animals are branded and owned by members of the Penticton Indian Band, according to the Regional District of the Okanagan-Similkameen and the B.C. Ministry of Environment.

Considered a nuisance by many in the area, the number of feral and free-roaming horses has risen to more than 600 over the last decade.

The horses have been wandering onto Nolet's property in the West Bench area of Penticton for several years.

"Sometimes there would be as many as 20 horses in my yard. I did not chase them away," said Nolet. "I would allow them just to take whatever time they needed to relax and munch on my grass."

Some of the animals had open wounds or leg injuries from getting tangled up in barbed wire on the grasslands near Penticton, she said.

Injured free-roaming horse

A free-ranging horse with a cut above its eye that was treated by Theresa Nolet with veterinary medicine (Theresa Nolet)

"Some of them are horrible. One time a horse came into the yard and she had a huge cut just over her eye," said Nolet. "It was probably about 3 inches long and quite deep."

Nolet treated the injured animals with veterinary medicine, including giving one stallion phenylbutazone — a veterinary drug commonly known as 'bute', that is used to treat pain and inflammation in horses. 

The drug is approved by Health Canada to be used in horses but it is not approved for horses intended to be slaughtered and used as meat for human consumption.

Investigation by federal and local authorities

Nolet contacted the Canadian Food and Inspection Agency (CFIA) in December 2015 after she learned some of the horses had been rounded up by their owner and were destined for slaughter.

She informed the CFIA she had administered the painkiller to the stallion on several occasions. She also provided the agency with a list of other veterinary medications she had given the other horses.

In a written statement, the agency told CBC News, "based on information gathered in the course of the CFIA's follow up inspections, the file has referred to the RCMP for review."  

In January 2016, an RCMP officer contacted Nolet about administering drugs to horses she didn't own, according to Nolet.

A spokesperson for the RCMP declined to comment on the investigation.

"The CFIA was concerned that I was doing it on purpose to taint the meat source," said Nolet. "That is so ridiculous. First of all I do not search those horses out. They came into my yard on a regular basis and sometimes they came with horrendous injuries." 

The CFIA declined to comment on what specifically prompted the agency to contact the RCMP.

A spokesperson said the agency determined the stallion Nolet treated with phenylbutazone had not been slaughtered for human consumption, and the current owner is also aware of that.

CBC news was not able to reach the owner of the horses. 

It is legal for the horses' owners to sell their animals for slaughter to be used as meat for human consumption.

The Penticton Indian Band is currently working on a community bylaw to resolve the issue of free-roaming horses, according to band councilor Dolly Kruger.

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Penticton RCMP investigates woman for treating free-roaming horses