A district judge has ordered that the sheriffs’ departments in Burleigh and Morton counties can adopt out, sell or otherwise dispose of horses seized from properties in the counties.
South Central District Judge Bruce Romanick ruled Friday morning that the two departments had probable cause to seize more than 150 horses from William Kiefer, who lives part time in New Salem, and that the animals should not be returned to Kiefer.
“The evidence to the Court is abundantly clear the animals in Morton and Burleigh (counties) were not being adequately cared for by Kiefer,” Romanick wrote in the order.
The Morton County Sheriff’s Department seized 119 live horses and donkeys from Kiefer’s property northwest of New Salem in late January after finding 96 dead animals there. Three more horses have since died. The Burleigh County Sheriff’s Department seized 38 horses and donkeys after finding three dead on property in that county.
The counties filed petitions on Wednesday asking that Romanick find the sheriffs’ departments acted properly by seizing the animals and could put the animals up for adoption, sell them or otherwise dispose of them as allowed by law. Prosecutors from the counties presented testimony at a hearing on Thursday that Kiefer did not adequately care for the animals, leading to the deaths of nearly 100 animals and the poor conditions of the remaining ones.
Kiefer did not attend the Thursday hearing.
“The Court finds from the record before it that Mr. Kiefer cannot provide adequate care for the animals,” Romanick wrote. “The animals will not be returned to Mr. Kiefer.”
Morton County Assistant State’s Attorney Jackson Lofgren and Burleigh County Assistant State’s Attorney Jeff Ubben said on Thursday that they hope to put all of the horses up for adoption.
Ubben said the horses have to be brand inspected before they can be adopted. He anticipated the Burleigh County bunch will be available for adoption by Monday.
Morton County Sheriff Dave Shipman said his county is going to work with Alison Smith, the founder of Triple H Miniature Horse Rescue, to develop a process for adopting the more than 100 horses in his county. Triple H Miniature Horse Rescue has been caring for the animals in the worst shape.
Shipman said people who previously sold horses to Kiefer and would like the animals back will be the first ones to get animals. After that, the county plans to “rely heavily” on Smith to come up with a process to make sure the horses “go to a good, good place,” the sheriff said.
Smith said the process will include applications to make sure the horses are going to people who want to be part of the rescue rather than people who are just looking for a free horse. The horses will be sold without registration papers and without guarantee as to their capabilities.
“We want forever homes for these horses,” Smith said.
The horses in Burleigh County were taken off Kiefer’s land and are at Menoken-area rancher Andrew Ennen’s property. However, the majority of the Morton County horses remain on Kiefer’s property. Shipman said he is trying to find a way to get the horses off Kiefer’s land, preferably to somewhere closer to Mandan, but it is hard to find a foster home for nearly 100 animals.
Smith said she hopes the adoption process moves quickly, since the county has finite hay supplies. She said she was “ecstatic” to learn of Romanick’s order Friday but was not surprised by it. Though she hopes Kiefer is criminal charged in the case, she said it is important for her and other volunteers to forgive him so as not to pass on their anger and depression to the horses.
“They need to heal mentally and emotionally,” she said. “They can sense if you are angry.”
Anyone interested in the horses in Burleigh County can call Burleigh County Sheriff’s Cpl. Ron Mehrer, 701-222-6651, and anyone interested in adopting the horses in Morton County can call the Morton County Sheriff’s Department at 701-667-3330 or Triple H Miniature Horse Rescue at 701-220-4449.