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January 25, 2013 06:00 PM

Caretakers Face Criminal Charges For Horses

Rapid City, SD

All of the neglected horses seized by the Pennington County Sheriff's office are in safe hands.  

When the news broke of 69 neglected horses seized just east of Rapid City, the sheriff's department received an outpouring of support from animal lovers.

"People from across the country, frankly, had offered support. Some were willing to adopt, some were willing to offer their support and thanks for us taking action on it," Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom said.

As of Friday morning, all of the horses have either been returned to their rightful owners or put into placement and the animals caretakers, Donald and Terri Harwood, are facing criminal charges.

"There was ten counts of Inhumane Treatment of Animals and those are in South Dakota what we call a Class I Misdemeanor, which is one year in jail and a $2,000 fine," Thom said.

It boils down to one count for each of the ten, most seriously malnourished horses. Still, some people in the community don't think that South Dakota has harsh enough laws to address crimes like this.

"If you look at murder, you know, there's murder one, murder two, manslaughter, things of that nature.  In the state of South Dakota the animals basically have misdemeanor, misdemeanor, misdemeanor," Senior Animal Control Officer Kent Brown said.

But SB 171 that's being considered by the state legislature could amend animal cruelty laws so that felony charges could be applied in cases of extreme animal abuse or neglect. Brown says he supports the bill and believes that it's overdue.

"I know of several cases here locally that I've worked in the 12 years of being here that definitely would have qualified had we had something else for it to go to," Brown said.

But it's a decision that's ultimately in the hands of legislators.

If convicted on all ten counts, the Harwoods could face up to ten one-year sentences that could be served back-to-back.  The proposed bill would apply to dogs, cats, and horses and has exceptions for traditional agricultural practices.

Click here to learn more about SB 171.

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