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Prairie Farm woman charged with 11 counts of mistreating horses in Dunn County

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE — A 74-year-old Prairie Farm woman has been charged with 11 counts of mistreating horses in the Town of Sheridan north of Boyceville.

Darleen R. Freiheit made an initial appearance in Dunn County Circuit Court May 14.

Freiheit is charged with two felony counts of mistreating animals causing death and nine misdemeanor counts of intentionally mistreating animals.

All together, 29 horses were in Freiheit’s care.

According to the criminal complaint, the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department had received complaints about dead horses, and sheriff’s deputies had gone to investigate on April 10 but could not find any dead or mistreated horses.

Sheriff’s deputies again went to investigate on April 14 and located the animals in the Town of a Sheridan about a mile west of the initial location.

Freiheit told investigators that the horses had hay at all times during the winter, except for perhaps a day or so when they did not have hay, but that she had recently had problems with the people helping her, and they had stopped hauling her hay.

Deputies observed that the only source of water for the horses was a creek running through the property and that there was no shelter for the animals.

A sheriff’s deputy called Dr. Katie Mrdutt of the Hay River Animal Hospital to come and grade the horses for neglect.

The scoring process works on a scale of one to ten, with a score one being at the very bottom and ten meaning the animal is overweight. Scores of five to seven are within the normal range.

Winter coats

According to the complaint, Dr. Mrdutt said that without being able to handle the horses, it would be difficult to score them because of their thick winter coats.

The complaint notes that the horses were all very wild and could not be handled.

Each horse was given a number and a score. A few of the horses were scored at the lower end of normal with a rating of five, but the majority of them had a score of one or two.

According to the complaint, Dr. Mrdutt submitted the following written statement, “On Sunday, April 14, 2013, I was contacted by the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department to come to a residence for a possible neglect case. At approximately 2:00 p.m. I arrived at the intersection of Barron-Dunn Avenue and 6 1/2 Street, east of Prairie Farm, Wisconsin, to examine a total of 29 horses.

“Upon arrival and examination of the Dunn County property, I noted the presence of two hay bales where the majority of the horses were standing and eating. There was no evidence of shelter, and the only water source I could see was a running creek nearby. Twenty-one horses were housed in a large cornfield. Upon closer examination of the group, two horses were found dead next to one of the hay bales. Both were extremely emaciated. Body condition scores determined from a distance of the rest on the ground ranged from <1 to 5 (on scale of 1 to 10), with the majority being a 1 or 2.

“Across the driveway two more horses were housed, also with no evidence of shelter or a water source. No hay or feed of any kind was found in this paddock. Body condition scores of these horses were 2.5 and 3.5

“Across the road in Barron County, 6 horses were housed in a cornfield, with no evidence of shelter and the water source being the same creek. There was a hay bale present with horses standing around eating. The body condition score of these horses were better with 5 out 6 being a ‘4’ or ‘5’; however, one horse was very emaciated with a score of 1.

“Due to the adverse weather conditions and cold winter, all of these horses had long winter coats, which makes it difficult to accurately determine their body conditions. It is very possible the condition of these horses may be worse than I witnessed, due to the covering from the winter coats, and the fact that I was unable to physically palpate each individual animal. The only two animals I was able to closely examine and physically palpate were the two dead animals, which were both extremely emaciated. I also suspect there may be a parasite infestation with these animals.

“In my professional opinion, I do believe these animals are being neglected and need to be removed from the property and ensured access to feed, water and shelter,” Dr. Mrdutt wrote.

Winter hay

Freiheit told deputies that she had been trying to care for her live-in boyfriend, Howard, and she had slipped a little bit in taking care of the horses. She also said she had not gotten the horses dewormed in the fall and was unable to separate the stallions from the herd.

Freiheit said she had worked it out so she had enough hay all winter, but that after Howard died, she could not get the hay from Howard’s barn because the estate wanted to be paid for it, according to the complaint.

Court order

On April 17, the Honorable William C. Stewart signed a Petition for the Authorization of the Sale, Destruction or Other Disposal of Animals. The petition stated that the two dead horses were transported to the state veterinary diagnostic lab in Barron, and the necropsy results were that no body fat was found on either horse and there were intestinal parasites connected to starvation.

A $1,000 signature bond was set during Freiheit’s initial court appearance May 14.

Another court appearance for Freiheit in Dunn County Circuit Court is scheduled August 6.

During the initial appearance, Freiheit waived a speedy trial.