Animal welfare probe launched at Wilkie-area horse ranch

RCMP in Wilkie, Sask., have confirmed that four horses were seized from a property a few kilometres south of the village of Scott, in a continuing animal welfare investigation. The horses were removed Friday, in response to allegations of starving animals.

Allegations of starvation; 4 animals seized Friday, some others already dead

An ongoing investigation concerning the welfare of some horses has led to the seizure of some animals. In the distance, one can see the shed and corral at the centre of the investigation. (Kathy Fitzpatrick/CBC)

RCMP in Wilkie, Sask., have confirmed that four horses were seized from a property a few kilometres south of the village of Scott, in a continuing animal welfare investigation.

The horses were removed on Friday, Feb. 14, in response to allegations of starving animals.

The investigation began in April of last year, when the first complaint was filed. The Saskatchewan SPCA became involved and told the owners of the animals to meet certain conditions.

Two fresh complaints arose in mid-December and last month.

"The owners have been given ample opportunity to comply and unfortunately they haven't complied with everything," RCMP Cst. Kevin Tufts told CBC News. "That's why the horses were seized."

An inspection of other horses on the property was expected in the coming days.

Tufts said the four animals that were seized Friday were in rough shape. 

"Just by looking, I would say poor [condition]," he said.

Some other horses have died, the SSPCA confirmed. That organization is waiting for lab results to determine if those animals died from starvation.

Owner having difficulties

Owner Laurie Blair said she and her husband have a lot of horses, without saying exactly how many, and are having trouble keeping up with the work associated with them, due to injuries.

Her husband broke his back and she has suffered a cracked knee, Blair said.

"We are doing everything we can," she said. "[We're] working our butts off dusk to dawn trying to remedy the situation."

They have also placed ads to sell some animals, she added.

Vicky Hallett, who lives in nearby Unity, told CBC News she has been urging the SSPCA to take actions to protect the Blairs' horses.

Hallett said she became aware of the situation last spring when a friend told her the horses were in trouble. She then went to see for herself. 

"What I saw made me sick," Hallett said. "So then I phoned [the SSPCA] and I have been trying to get them to remove these animals ever since."

The SSPCA's manager of animal protection services, Kaley Pugh, said staff are doing what they can.

 "We are obliged to work with the owners to relieve the animals of their distress without seizure as much as possible," Pugh said. "It does often take some time for cases to reach a resolution, either to be resolved satisfactorily so that we can close the file or for it to become obvious that a seizure or whatnot is required."

Pugh added that charges are pending in the case.