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Judge rules that Dickinson man's horses should be seized

DICKINSON, N.D. -- A Southwest District Court judge upheld a petition to seize animals from a Dickinson man on Wednesday, March 21, at the Stark County Courthouse.

Stark County Sheriff Deputy Matt Keesler, with the department's civil division, said the department received allegations of neglected animals on March 14. He, accompanied by the state veterinarian and another individual, took photos of the horses owned by Dennis "Rocky" Armbrust on March 15.

During the seizure hearing, Keesler testified that on the north side of the farm, which is owned by another individual, there was a pen of about 37 horses, some of which he claimed looked thin, and described at least one horse that had a leg injury. The horses had one bale of hay when they went out to view the horses on March 15, Keesler testified. In total there were around 50 horses owned by Armbrust on the property.

Keesler described several horses that he believed were thin, noting that some had high hip bones that were visible and some had visible back bones. He also claimed he witnessed some horses eating feces off of the ground.

Keesler said the horses did have access to water, but claimed they could only go in one at a time and that there were nails in one of the posts, which had to be removed for the safety of the horses.

Keesler also testified there were multiple dead horses in the pen, including some that were under a pile of snow and one that was located toward the middle of the pen.

The horses were seized by the county in place on March 15 and have been fed around 20 bales of hay since then. He said the water source has also been opened up more for the horses. Keesler said the horses will be checked on regularly for updates to their health.

Armbrust said the horses were to be sold in February, but a snowstorm prevented him from travelling to the sale. Armbrust also claimed the horses were getting fed every day and said they had two sites to access water, not just the one the state claimed.

"There are some thin ones in there; I don't deny that," Armbrust said. "... Probably thinner than they should have been."

Armbrust said he intended to bury the dead horses once the ground thawed this spring and said that the horses that died were all older in age and were between the ages of 20 and 30 years.

Before being moved to Stark County in February, the horses were grazing on land in Dunn County.

He also said the horses had been fed on the morning of March 14. He said when a Stark County sheriff's deputy asked him to feed the animals another bale of hay that night, there was still hay left from the morning.

Armbrust said that while the horses "were thin" and had "lost a lot of weight when they got into town," he believed the state should have presented photographs of the horses that looked healthy. He noted that the seizure of the animals prevented him from selling them at a sale this week. Armbrust said he intended to sell all of the horses at the sale.

Stark County Assistant State's Attorney Amanda Engelstad said she believed it did not matter if the horses were to be sold, they were not in good condition.

Judge Rhonda Ehlis upheld the seizure, noting that vet reports from the North Dakota state veterinarian Susan Keller and another vet showed poor body conditions on some of the animals.

A disposition hearing on how to deal with the animals — should they be sold, adopted, returned back to the owner — will be held at a later time.

There are no criminal charges filed in this case at this time.

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