Guilty Plea in Oklahoma Starved Mustang Cruelty Case

A criminal case involving the starvation of two wild horses adopted from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) ended with a guilty plea in Rogers County, Okla., the Bureau announced yesterday.

Adopter Shannon J. Smoke of Broken Arrow, Okla., pled guilty in state court on July 1, 2009, to one count of felony animal cruelty for starving the horses he had obtained through the BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Program in 2006. One horse was found dead on Smoke's property in March 2007 and the other died shortly thereafter. A veterinary report cited starvation as the cause of death.

After receiving reports of animal neglect from Rogers County deputies, the BLM investigated and worked with the Rogers County District Attorney's Office to bring state charges against Smoke.

"I'm outraged to hear of this treatment of horses," said Linda Rundell, state director of the BLM. "I thank the Rogers County Sherriff's Department, Assistant DA Patrick Abitbol, and the Oklahoma State Court for their work to bring this criminal to justice."

Shannon received a felony conviction, a two-year suspended sentence (supervised probation), 30 days in jail, a $500 fine, and was ordered to pay restitution to the BLM in the amount of $2,797.33. Shannon may not own or possess any animals during the period of his probation and may never again adopt a wild horse or burro from the BLM.

Individuals who adopt wild horses or burros from the agency assume full legal responsibility for the animals. For at least the first year following adoption, the federal government retains ownership of the animals and conducts periodic wellness checks. When the agency learns of an instance of abuse or neglect, it can usually resolve the matter by either counseling the adopter or repossessing the animal. In rare cases, criminal charges may be brought.

"Tragically, these horses were too far gone before BLM was aware of the situation and could intervene to save them," Rundell said. "Prosecution was the only option."

Rundell noted that the vast majority of horses adopted from BLM each year go to good homes. In 2008 the agency adopted about 3,700 horses and burros nationwide.

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