The camera rolled as representatives from an animal rights group based in Maryland documented what they saw at a Los Lunas horse auction on March 10.
Then they went for help, insisting that a total of four horses they contend were dying in inhumane conditions be put down immediately. They claim a state Livestock Board inspector at the scene refused to intervene.
|WARNING: Content is graphic including images of injured horses.
Watch the video shot by Animals’ Angels of alleged problems at the horse auction.
Finally, a worker at the site agreed to euthanize the dying horses, they contend. By that time, the mare that had been biting her tongue was dead.
The video was sufficiently graphic to prompt the state Livestock Board to start an investigation this week into the incident at Southwest Livestock Auctions, owned by Dennis Chavez.
And the office of state Attorney General Gary King also is reviewing the matter.
“I know for a fact that the AG is concerned about the reports,” said spokesman Phil Sisneros on Tuesday. He said no decision has been made about any action the Attorney General’s Office might take.
Chavez didn’t return a phone call on Tuesday. A secretary at his Los Lunas office who wouldn’t give her name said, “We’ve been told by our lawyers not to comment.”
Myles Culbertson, executive director of the Livestock Board, said his agency watched the videotape on Monday and received emails and other allegations about the video.
“When we saw that and when there’s an allegation of animal cruelty at that market, we just made a decision immediately to launch an investigation,” Culbertson told the Journal on Tuesday.
He said his agency has the authority to go to court to seize animals that might be in danger, but had not yet done so. He noted the investigation had just begun, and he did not know how long it would take.
“We don’t know how complex it is, we don’t know what the real facts are that would lead to additional questions,” Culbertson said. “I think we can count the time in not days, but probably weeks and not very many of those.”
The video was made by Animals’ Angels Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Westminster, Md., which is focused on improving conditions for farm animals.
“We work primarily in the field, trailing livestock trucks on highways, visiting markets, collecting stations and slaughterhouses,” states the group’s website. A call to the group seeking comment wasn’t immediately returned.
The organization’s website states that Animals’ Angels investigators had received “frequent complaints about Chavez’s operation, all alleging abuse, neglect and animals suffering with no vet care and in need of euthanasia.
“But it was not enough to prepare investigators for what they found.”
The group contends Chavez is a “major kill buyer” who shipped 10,000 horses a year to Mexico for slaughter – which is legal.
The March 10 quarterly horse auction was advertised as a “Summit of the Horse” on its fliers.
After the group’s representatives walked through the Los Lunas auction horse pens that morning, they noted a vast empty pen area, and behind that, additional pens where they claim to have found about 700 horses.
The group’s website has a narrative, a description of the horses and photos to illustrate the condition of the animals.
In one pen, a “beautiful palomino stood quietly with blood dripping from her eye. But then there was the emaciated grey horse nearby with both eyes destroyed. He stayed close to a chestnut ‘seeing’ companion. Marked with a large X, he wore a slaughter tag.
“Whatever the cause of his scarred and blinded condition, this horse has been dealt with harshly, yet even then he licked the investigator’s hand,” the animal group reported on its website.
Four other horses were discovered down, including one with the hip wound that appeared to be an injury from “bone on ground impact as she kept trying to get up and falling.”
Another mare’s back legs were tangled in wire. Another moved her ears when the group’s representatives approached, but otherwise didn’t move at all, the group reported.
When the animal group’s representatives went for help at the auction office, they couldn’t find the auction veterinarian. Eventually a man they identified as B. J. Winchester, a state livestock inspector, came in, and agreed to walk back to the pens to see the four horses.
“He was quick to defend Chavez, calling the horses ‘rescues,'” that Chavez was trying to ‘nurture them back to health’ and that he was giving them ‘a chance to live,'” the group reported. Chavez had put his brand on at least one horse’s hip.
The animal group says Winchester, the inspector, refused to interrupt the auction to have the four horses euthanized and reportedly said, “Nothing will be done right away.”
Finally, an auction worker arrived, and offered to shoot the four horses immediately.
Culbertson, of the Livestock Board, said claims that Winchester failed to take action when advised of the emaciated horses “aren’t true.”
“But since there’s an investigation, we’re not going to share information until we’ve brought the investigation to a close,” Culbertson said.
Culbertson said allegations of animal cruelty involving livestock in New Mexico are becoming more frequent.
He said that in 2011, his agency fielded more than 100 such complaints, most involving treatment of horses.
“A number of those are unfounded, but a number are (founded). We’ve actually made, in the last month and a half, two felony arrests associated with animal cruelty,” Culbertson said. That case involved horses elsewhere in the state.
He wouldn’t comment on whether Chavez has been the subject of prior enforcement action.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal