TEXAS CITY — The former owner of five starving horses seized from a Texas City stable was charged Tuesday with two counts of cruelty to livestock animals.
David Altamirano, 37, of Galveston, said he took full responsibility for the condition of the horses as he told the judge he had tried to do something about the horses’ weight loss.
Texas City police took the five horses from a stable in the 800 block of North Orchid near the Kohfeldt Park riding arena Jan. 7 after receiving a tip. Two of the horses died.
Justice of The Peace Darrell Apffel awarded the three remaining horses to Habitat for Horses at a hearing Tuesday after finding that the animals had been “severely neglected.”
Altamirano was ordered to pay the rescue organization about $7,350 for the veterinary costs the group had incurred and for the horses’ future care.
After the hearing, Altamirano was charged with two counts of cruelty to livestock, a Class A misdemeanor, Texas City officer Randall Johnston said. Bail was set at $2,000 on each charge. A Class A misdemeanor can result in up to a $4,000 fine and up to one year in jail.
Johnston said Altamirano turned himself in after being charged. The two counts were based on the two dead horses, Johnston said.
Altamirano posted bail at 4:33 p.m. Tuesday and was released, officials said.
Altamirano also owns a sixth horse in an adjoining pasture, Johnston said. During the hearing, Altamirano said he was willing to have the horse checked by veterinarians.
At the hearing, Dr. Michelle Milton said both horses had died because of complications from starvation. All five horses seized were suffering a high burden of internal parasites, said Milton, a veterinarian with Santa Fe Equine Associates.
At the hearing, Altamirano said he took full responsibility for the condition the horses were in.
“I can’t explain how bad I feel,” Altamirano told Apffel.
Johnston said Altamirano had been in possession of the horses for six months. Johnston said Altamirano had not taken the horses to a veterinarian.
Altamirano said he noticed the horses started losing weight in November and tried to do something about it. He gave them an over-the-counter de-wormer, changed the hay he was giving them and fed them horse feed every other day, he said.
When he noticed rain rot, a bacterial and fungal skin infection, he brought the horses into their stalls and he exercised the horses when he could, he said. Altamirano said he intended to have the animals checked by a veterinarian and vaccinated in the coming month.
“I failed because I thought I can do it better and I thought I can bring them around,” he said.
He said he was out of town for an uncle’s funeral last week when he received a call from the stable owner letting him know that some of the horses weren’t looking well. Altamirano said he asked his girlfriend to check on them.
Altamirano said he was in full cooperation with the Texas City police and reiterated that he took responsibility for the horses.
“There is no excuse, honestly, for their condition and for what happened,” Altamirano said. “I take full responsibility.”
Amy Snider, an officer with Texas City animal control, told the judge that when she and other officers arrived at the stable Jan. 7, two of the horses were down on the ground.
“The bay filly and palomino actually looked deceased when we first go there,” Snider said.
The two young horses were taken to Santa Fe Equine Associates, while the other three were taken to the Habitat for Horses facility in Hitchcock.
Milton said that when the two young mares were brought in, they couldn’t raise their heads and their body temperature was so low it would not register on a thermometer.
“Had they been left in place overnight, they would have passed, certainly, overnight,” she said.
The horses were started on warm IV fluids and given steroids, vitamins and antibiotics, but Milton said she gave them both a poor prognosis for survival. On a body scale of 1 to 9, with 1 being the worst, both horses had a body condition of 1, she said.
“That is one step above death, essentially,” Milton said.
The two horses in worst condition were suffering from skin infections and were extremely dehydrated and anemic, she said. All five horses showed a very high burden of internal parasites, Milton said.
Evidence brought by Milton and members of Habitat for Horses included a picture taken during a necropsy.
During the necropsy, it was apparent the parasite infestations were “probably some of the worst that I’ve ever seen,” Milton said.
“It was overwhelming how infected they were,” she said.
The parasites contributed to the deaths of the two young horses, Milton said. Cold weather also played a role in their rapid decline, she said.
Both animals gained strength after their first night under veterinary care, she said. But it is not uncommon for horses in this condition to suffer from re-feeding syndrome, where the gut that has been starved shuts down and starts breaking down fat, she said. Once the animals are re-fed, there can be dangerous shifts in electrolytes, which can lead to death, Milton said.
Asked by Apffel how long it would have taken for the horses to get in that condition, Milton said it could have been weeks of no feeding to months of poor-quality feed, she said.
“It certainly didn’t happen in a couple days,” she said.
Months of recovery
The three surviving horses are being cared for by Habitat for Horses and are doing well, said Susan Moore, lead investigator with the organization.
Jerry Finch, president and founder of Habitat for Horses, said it could take six months before the horses “even appear to be a normal horse.”
“We are going on a very slow re-feeding schedule with them,” he said.
Finch said that if horse owners are running into problems, the organization is available to help.
“But we are not going to put up with skinny and dying horses in this county,” he said.
During the hearing, Altamirano broke down and began to cry, telling the judge he was just as troubled as everyone else by the condition of the horses.
“You might not believe me, but it does hurt to know that my animals were in that bad condition,” Altamirano said. “I do love them. Like I said, my best was not good enough, but I never abandoned them. I never abused them. I never treated them wrong. I am very sad to find out that they died.”
How to help
Donations are being accepted by Habitat for Horses to help cover the cost of the horses’ care. Call 409-935-0277.