Pine County sheriff's deputies executed a search warrant last week in connection with a month-long investigation into animal abuse at a farm near Pine City, Minn.
During the Sept. 12 search of the farm, investigators seized the following animals:
- 12 starving horses
- 21 dogs of various breeds
- 18 ducks
- 84 chickens
Investigators said two of the horses had to be put down by a veterinarian the following day "due to their deplorable condition."
"It was pretty bad," Chief Deputy Steven Blackwell, who has been on a few seizures, told FOX 9 News. "It's certainly the worst I've seen -- not only the conditions of the animals physically, but the conditions where they were at. You could tell there was not a lot of water, food or care being attended to them."
The animals were found in "filthy pens and makeshift enclosures," some of which were made out of boards or fencing. Some of the dogs were living in holes dug into the ground.
"About 4 feet deep," Blackwell explained. "Several of [the dogs] were in there. We lifted up this door to this pit and found several of the dogs just living in those conditions there. No water, no food."
Several of the ducks seized by deputies was unable to float when placed in a clean tub of water, which is a sign of poor health.
The owner of the animals is not being named at this time, as charges have not yet been filed; however, FOX 9 has confirmed with sources that Kathleen Doenz is believed to be the caretaker -- and she has a history of similar behavior.
Previously, she pleaded guilty to a couple of gross misdemeanor counts of animal neglect while dozens more were dismissed. Now, new charges are being prepared against her.
From the horizon, the Pine County farm -- which belongs to Doenz's mother -- looks like the kind dreams are made of; however, investigators say the secluded dirt road behind the trespassing signs led to a nightmare of starving animals.
According to the search warrant obtained exclusively by FOX 9 News, the horses found there were horribly malnourished. One had an injury where the skin was literally peeling down the animal's leg.
FOX 9's Tom Lyden caught up with Doenz at her own farmstead a few miles away and noticed a couple of horses there that also looked like they were in rough shape, with visible ribs and matted manes.
Doenz wasn't especially talkative, explaining that her lawyer told her "not to say nothing," and she's had experience with lawyers. Seven years ago, she was charged with 36 counts of animal neglect.
Yet, it doesn't appear that experience changed her perspective on animal care. When asked whether the situation is as bad as it sound, she replied, "I feel it's not."
Investigators say the strange part of the case is that Doenz was not running a puppy mill or breeding. She was collecting, and, according to the search warrant, every single animal -- except for the chickens -- had a name.
Under Minnesota law, the owner has 10 days to file a request for judicial review of the seizure of the animals. If the owner does not file a challenge, the sheriff's office can humanely dispose of the animals on Sept. 24.
HOW TO ADOPT THE ANIMALS
The dogs suitable for adoption will be available through the Pine County Guardian Angel Shelter on Sept. 24. Adoption is dependent on the new owner agreeing to have the animal spayed or neutered. Two of the dogs are pregnant and litters are expected soon.
The horses will be available for adoption through North Ridge Veterinary Service. Those seeking to adopt a horse are required to provide personal information, a reference letter from a veterinarian and the name of their current farrier.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
The cost of caring for these animals is more than $15,000 and increasing daily. The sheriff's office is accepting donations from individuals or groups interested in the rescue of these animals.
Donations can be made in care of the Pine County Sheriff's Posse/Horse Fund, and mailed or delivered to:
Pine County Sheriff's Office
635 Northridge Dr. NW, Suite 100
Pine City, MN 55063