**Updated Below With New Photos of Seized Horses**
State police and animal welfare agents seized six horses from a Jeffersonville man over the weekend. The action follows a December 14 story in Seven Days about the malnourished draft horses and the lack of good enforcement in large-animal cruelty cases in Vermont.
Vermont State Police spokesperson Stephanie Dasaro confirms that authorities executed a search warrant on Sunday and several of the horses were seized. Their owner, Rick Fletcher, was charged with animal cruelty.
Fletcher was first investigated for animal cruelty in July after the Vermont Humane Federation passed on to police an anonymous tip about the starving horses. A large-animal vet found the horses malnourished and covered in botflies (indicating a lack of deworming), but determined their lives were not in jeopardy.
Police said the horses would be monitored, but it was a month before anyone checked on the animals again. In September, the VHF received new, anonymous photos (above and below) showing the horses thinner than ever — and again passed them on to police.
Police and their consulting vet previously told Seven Days that the horses made progress through the autumn months, albeit slowly, and so they saw no need to seize them. Police did, however, issue Fletcher a civil ticket in October and warned that criminal charges could follow if the horses' health did not improve.
Fletcher has declined to speak on the record about the situation, but the large-animal vet in the case, Dr. David Sequist of Morrisville, told Seven Days last month that Fletcher apparently had trouble securing pasture for the horses for a period of time.
P.E.T.S. of the Kingdom, a volunteer humane rescue organization based in the Northeast Kingdom, assisted state police in removing the horses and placing them in an undisclosed location for rehabilitation. P.E.T.S. cofounder Renee Falconer says the horses actually appeared slightly healthier than they do in these pictures, though she couldn't tell if that was because they had more body fat or thicker coats.
Falconer says she found all six horses outdoors with no shelter. Two were on a hill and had two small pails of frozen water and no hay. The other four were near a barn but could not get inside it, she says, and had some hay but no water. Falconer reports the horses' hoofs were cracked and split, a sign of neglect.
According to Falconer, Fletcher refused to surrender the animals voluntarily, meaning the case will go to a forfeiture hearing in Lamoille County Superior Court. In the meantime, P.E.T.S. assumes responsibility for the feeding and caring for the animals at three separate foster locations. If the court strips Fletcher of custody, the horses would eventually go up for adoption, Falconer says.
UPDATE - Wednesday January 11
This morning, state police sent these photos of the horses they seized to the news media. We're awaiting word from police on whether any of these are the same horses pictured above, and will update when we know.
Update #2 - According to state police Sgt. Julie Cooper, the horse in the foreground of the bottom picture (below) is the same one pictured above (second photo in original post).