MOREHEAD — Rowan County Sheriff Jack Carter said Wednesday he was still shaken by the scene he encountered the previous day at a horse farm off Ky. 32 east of Morehead.
It was on that farm authorities found the bodies of 31 horses, along with a number of other horses that were still alive but in emaciated condition.
“It was one of the worst things I’ve ever seen,” said Carter, one of the longest-serving sheriffs in Kentucky.“There were buzzards circling the area.”Eleven of the dead horses were in the barn, and 20 more were found in the pasture of the farm, on Kegley Ridge Road, which overlooks Laurel Gorge.
The bodies were in various states of decomposition, Carter said.The animals had chewed holes in the walls of the barn, the sheriff said. The stench, he said, was overwhelming.“I couldn’t stand it,” he said.“I had to come out.”The odor of decomposition still hung heavily in the air near the farm on Wednesday as workers used a bulldozer to dig two mass graves in which to bury the dead horses. Vultures continued to circle the property.
Carter said a number of live horses were found in the barn and in the pasture. Many of the animals were rack-thin and in pitiful shape, he said.“We had eight or 10 that we thought were going to be dead before the end of the day,” he said.
The owner of the farm, Don Miller, told investigators he had been unable to care for his animals because he was critically ill, Carter said.Miller was able to produce receipts showing where he had been spending about $300 a week on feed for his horses, and investigators found grain in the barn, Carter said.
The feed obviously wasn’t getting to the animals, he said.“It was just a case of neglect,” Carter said.“Complete and total.”Under Kentucky law, the worst a person accused of animal neglect can be charged with is a misdemeanor, Carter said.
On Tuesday, the state Department of Agriculture charged the owner, Don Miller, with violating state law regarding the disposition of animal carcasses. The charges carry a fine of up to $500 for a first offense. Subsequent offenses are punishable by fines of $500 to $1,000, up to 30 days in jail, or both.More charges are likely to be filed, investigators said.
"There will be a lot of (charges) in this case,” Carter said, adding that a criminal complaint was filed on Wednesday with the Rowan County Attorney’s Office.
The investigation that led to the discovery of the dead and dying animals was prompted by complaints from the Lewis County chapter of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.Eugene Kinney of the SPCA said Wednesday several people approached him about horses possibly being mistreated on the Miller farm, which prompted him to conduct his own investigation.He said Miller let him on his property voluntarily and allowed him to look around.
Kinney said he reported his findings to the sheriff’s department and to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Division of Animal Health.He confirmed there was feed in the barn. However, Kinney said he saw nothing to indicate the animals had any type of water supply.
Kinney said the living horses had been placed in his care. A veterinarian was brought in to examine the animals, he said.A neighbor of Miller’s, Della Reynolds, told the Lexington Herald-Leader she didn’t notice anything amiss on Miller’s farm until she learned about the investigation from news reports.
Reynolds, who couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday, also told the Herald-Leader Miller had been in poor health since suffering a heart attack a year and a half ago. She also said Miller had raised horses for years and she did not believe he had intentionally neglected his animals.
Police say the owner of an eastern Kentucky farm, his teenage son and a hired hand have been charged in connection with horses found dead and malnourished.The Lexington Herald-Leader reports the three are charged with 21 counts each of misdemeanor animal cruelty in connection with 11 dead horses and 10 in poor health that were found at the Rowan County farm.Authorities have been told that farm owner Don Miller had been critically ill for at least the past year. Detective Gary Lanham of the Rowan County Sheriff's Department says Miller's son was directed to take care of the horses, and Bryan Simpson would take care of them one or two days a week. The son's name hasn't been released because he is a juvenile.An attorney could not be located for Miller or Simpson.Lanham says that according to statements, the teen and Simpson knew of the horses' bad condition, but did not tell Miller.