By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – A Morton couple has been charged with animal cruelty in connection with their horses which were seized in September by the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.
Joanne M. Simmons, 65, and Terry L. Simmons, 58, said they were shocked to find notice of criminal charges in their mail when they returned home today from out of town.
Sheriff’s deputies and county code enforcement workers visited the property on the 800 block of state Route 7 numerous times before finally taking nine of their animals in late September, describing them as dehydrated and severely malnourished, according to court documents.
“They came and acted like they were trying to help,” Joanne Simmons said after appearing briefly before a judge.
The couple said they are Kiger Mustangs, descended from wild horses and are built unlike ordinary horses. Some they had “rescued”, they said.
“We were in the process of giving them away because we had too many,” Terry Simmons said this afternoon. He noted finding good homes takes some time.
The couple said their animals got quality feed, but county authorities say differently.
During one visit, a code enforcement employee noted four bales were placed so the horses had to fight to eat, and the smaller horses were being trampled, according to charging documents.
“A few had bandages,” the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office wrote.
They are each charged with six counts of first-degree animal cruelty, an allegation that with criminal negligence the animals were starved or dehydrated which caused substantial physical pain that lasted long enough to cause considerable suffering. Those are felonies.
They are also charged with two counts of second-degree animal cruelty, alleging at the very least they knowingly allowed them to live in conditions that caused unnecessary pain. Those are misdemeanors.
The couple appeared before Judge James Lawler this afternoon; he allowed them to remain free on $5,000 signature bonds.
Temporary defense attorney Bob Schroeter told the judge they didn’t qualify for court-appointed attorneys, as Terry Simmons earned $8,000 a month with the Boeing Co.
The charges filed on Oct. 29 in Lewis County Superior Court offer some of the following details in their allegations:
In April, a deputy responding to a complaint of horse malnourishment noted some of the animals looked thin, but not in distress.
The following month, the county code enforcement supervisor and the animal shelter manager observed one of the horses in the field had protruding rib and hip bones. At that time, Joanne Simmons told them the skinny horse normally got grain, but they were out it.
In mid-September, a code enforcement employee visited again and said she could see rib and hip bones on many of the horses.
A week later, when a deputy and a veterinarian showed up, the Simmons allowed the animals to be examined.
The vet checked 18 horse and found some of them scored very low on a scale to document their well-being.
Horse number 707 suffered from chronic malnutrition; it was said to be three years old but appeared as though it were a yearling, Dr. Patricia Arnold noted.
One that was extremely underweight was likely pregnant, another had a chronic cough, a four-year-old was the size of a yearling, she reported.
A 27-year-old that scored a one on a scale of one to five was seriously emaciated and dehydrated. It was euthanized with the consent of the Simmons.
The sheriff’s office said it didn’t appear the couple really understood how bad of condition they were in.
Nine horses were taken from the Simmons on Sept. 30, according to charging documents. The sheriff’s office said at the time the removal of the horses occurred on Sept. 28.
The couple this afternoon said they’ve owned horses since the 1980s.
They knew the 27-year-old horse was dying of old age, they said. The time just hadn’t been quite right yet to put her down, according to Simmons.
Five private groups – Dwelly Farm, Hope for Horses, Pasado’s Safe Haven, Good Life Stables, Hooved Animal Rescue of Thurston County – and the Lewis County Animal Shelter assisted in the removal and foster care of the horses.
The sheriff’s office said at the time of the seizure that donations of feed and grain were needed and could be made to the shelter.
The Simmons arraignments are scheduled for Nov. 21.
For background, read: “Authorities impound nine malnourished horses from Morton couple” from Monday October 1, 2012, here