(12/3) A horse boarder who had 21 animals seized in Pennsylvania is under investigation by Animal Control officials in Frederick County regarding 34 horses at a farm near Thurmont. But the boarder said he is in compliance with the law and is being unfairly portrayed in the media as an animal abuser.
The Adams County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals seized the 21 horses Nov. 16 from a Littlestown farm where Pennsylvania resident James Houseman III was leasing space. The farm's owner contacted officials about the horses, which were malnourished and suffering from health problems, according to an SPCA news release. One of
the horses has since died and another was put down by a veterinarian.
Frederick County Animal Control Officer Robert Uttermohlen was at the farm near Thurmont over a three-day period two weeks ago, Animal Control Director Harold Domer said, investigating allegations of neglect involving the same boarder whose horses were seized. Domer would not name the boarder because he has not been charged.
Uttermohlen educated the boarder about caring for the animals, Domer said. There was sufficient food on the property, and none of the horses was in a condition that warranted removal or charges, but he said the case is still under investigation and Uttermohlen has been making daily checks on the feeding of the horses.
"We're confirming the proper feed and mixture of feed, and the proper management of the herd, to assure they get the food they need," Domer said.
Houseman said he gave Animal Control officers a key to a gate that leads to the property and has extended permission for them to examine the horses whenever they want.
He said feeding issues with a few of the animals were addressed by adding them to a group he was already separating from the herd for additional feeding each evening.
Joe Topper, owner of Breezy Hills Stables on Mud College Road east of Thurmont, said he was horrified when he learned that Houseman -- with whom he has had business dealings -- was bringing horses to the property adjacent to his farm. He said his fears were realized when he saw the condition of the animals.
"None of them looked very healthy," Topper said. "They were all kind of scruffy-looking."
Topper said he called Gary Kubala, a veterinarian at the Littlestown Veterinary Clinic who had also examined the seized Pennsylvania horses, and asked him to look at the animals.
Kubala, who called Frederick County Animal Control about the situation, said the animals are not as bad off as the seized horses in Pennsylvania, but added, "I don't want to wait until it gets to that point."
Houseman said he is being unjustly maligned. He said 11 of the seized horses in Pennsylvania had been in his care for only a few weeks, and that the herd was in good condition overall. Both horses that died after being seized had been under the care of a vet, he said.
Adams County SPCA officials did not return several calls seeking comment. No charges had been filed against Houseman there as of Friday.
Kubala said he has spoken with Houseman and made a standing offer to find better situations for the horses. He said Houseman told him he was considering the offer, but he has not heard from him since.
"All I'm concerned about is that everyone gets taken care of," Kubala said.
Charges and countercharges
Houseman said he will likely take Kubala up on his offer with eight horses that recently came into his care, but he must wait until he has full ownership of the animals before he can give them away.
Topper said he believes Animal Control officials are doing everything they can within the law, but based on his observations he believes Houseman is providing only the minimum required food and care.
"It's going to get ugly as the weeks go on," Topper said. "It just absolutely makes me sick."
One owner, Ed Lipton of Winter Park, Fla., is suing Houseman for the return of 14 thoroughbreds.
Lipton said he became suspicious about how his horses were being cared for in August when Houseman would not send him photos and hair samples for registration purposes. He said he told Houseman that he did not want to be billed if he was not going to receive the photos and hair samples, and Houseman stopped billing him.
Houseman challenged those assertions, saying Lipton had paid him only a fraction of what he owed for the care of the horses.
An Adams County judge ruled Nov. 10 that Lipton must pay Houseman $16,640 plus $116 per day to get his horses back, according to court documents.
"He's saying he didn't pay me because I didn't send him the samples, but I'm saying I didn't send him the samples because he didn't pay me," Houseman said.
Lipton said he just wants the situation to be resolved and to have his horses back.
"I don't care about James Houseman," Lipton said. "I care about my horses. But at this point I don't know what I'm going to get."
Houseman insists Lipton's horses are well cared for, like the rest of the herd.
"These horses are happy and content," he said. "They're in a good environment."
LiTTLESTOWN, Pa. (WHTM) -
Humane officers in Maryland are now investigating the caretaker of 21 horses seized from an Adams County farm last week.
According to a search warrant in the case, James Houseman has approximately 30 counts pending against him on the other side of the state line. Officials in Frederick County, Maryland confirmed they are investigating.
The warrant also indicates that Houseman, who leased a property at 135 Fesser Road in Littlestown, had been moving horses from different locations. Investigators say they found a dead horse on the property last week, and two seized horses were too weak to survive.
Humane Society investigators in Adams County have said they are pursuing animal cruelty charges.
The Dutterers, who own the Littlestown property Houseman had been leasing, said they reported the suspected animal abuse. They said Houseman started renting from them in mid-October, but they got suspicious a few weeks later when they hadn't been able to communicate with him.
Denis Dutterer says when she checked on the horses, she was shocked.
"They had white puss coming out of their eyes, their bones were showing," she said, "They would come over to you and kind of looked at you like 'help me.'"
The surviving horses are being nursed back to health at the Adams County SPCA chapter, but horse lovers across the Maryland border are hoping another set of horses will get help.
Houseman is also in charge of about 35 horses on a property near Thurmont. His lawyer told abc27 News that Houseman plans to "vigorously contest allegations of animal cruelty."
However, the veterinarian who treated the horses seized in Adams County has also looked at the horses that were under Houseman's care in Thurmont. He said they are showing similar symptoms of neglect.
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