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Colorado Department of Agriculture seizes over 100 animals from Montezuma County property

Horses feed at a property on Road P in Montezuma County in this file photo. As part of a civil complaint, in early May the Colorado Department of Agriculture seized more than 100 animals from the property alleging mistreatment in violation of the Colorado Animal Protection Act. (The Journal file)
Civil complaint alleges neglect, mistreatment of livestock and companion animals; injunction issued against couple

The Colorado Department of Agriculture has seized more than 100 animals from a Montezuma County property citing mistreatment and neglect in violation of the Colorado Animal Protection Act.

From May 5 to May 7, the Department of Agriculture’s Animal Protection Bureau executed a search warrant on the property of Sharon and Joe Ward at 31104 Road P to inspect and take custody of 110 animals, which included horses, goats, sheep, pigs, dogs, cattle, rabbits, cats, turkeys, geese and chickens.

The animals were successfully taken to rehabilitation facilities and provided medical and nutritional care, said Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin.

The civil complaint was initiated by the Department of Agriculture and the Colorado Attorney General’s Office after an investigation. No criminal charges have been filed, Nowlin said.

“It is a civil case and investigation brought by the state,” he said.

At a three-hour Montezuma County court hearing May 17, District Chief Judge Doug Walker issued a preliminary injunction requested by the Attorney General’s Office that prohibits the Wards from owning or tending to any animals.

“The evidence is brutally clear the animals are living in horrendous conditions,” Walker said in granting the injunction. “You can never allow animals to try and survive under these conditions. I make a finding (the defendants) are not fit to own or possess animals.”

The complaint identifies the Wards as the owners of the animals either individually or jointly.

According to the May 6 civil complaint, Taylor Peterson, lead investigator for the Bureau of Animal Protection, and veterinarian Courtney Diehl, with the Denver Dumb Friends League, conducted an inspection of the animals and quarters, which led to their seizure and the injunction.

According to findings in the Department of Agriculture civil complaint:

  • A large number of animals did not have access to water, and those that did, the water was dirty. There was no feed available for the majority of the livestock to feed on in their pens.
  • “Body condition scores” for the majority of horses were between 1 and 3 out of 9.
  • Animal pens were filled with manure, including those of the rabbits, leaving them with little headroom.
  • The poultry were searching for water, exhibiting aggression toward one another and had overall poor body condition.
  • A roan gelding had a body condition score of 1 out of 9.
  • Two dogs were tied to separate posts, one of which was wrapped so tightly around a pole it could move only a few feet. There were another six dogs, five of which were puppies, in a kennel, and none had access to water. The puppies had distended bellies.
  • Approximately 70% of the equines exhibited consistent lameness and had overgrown hooves; three had untreated and infected wounds.
  • Of the goats and sheep, many were not able to bear weight on all four hooves and were visibly lame. All were visibly thin with prominent ribs, spine and pelvis.
  • The majority of the swine were either underweight or lame with overgrown hooves and tusks. All were housed in pens in substantial disrepair.
  • The rabbits were huddled and inactive in small cages filled with manure, and most were without food or water.

The civil complaint alleges the lack of animal care is a violation of the Colorado Animal Protection Act. It does not include criminal charges.

“Defendants have mistreated, neglected, or abandoned livestock ... and companion animals ... that endangers the animals’ lives or health,” the complaint says.

On May 6, while the search warrant and seizure was executed, Walker issued a temporary restraining order against the Wards, which prevented them from interfering with the search, inspection and seizure, or from moving animals from the location.

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During the hearing, Sharon Ward’s defense attorney Richard Simms said there was no evidence that she owns the animals and she does not claim ownership.

Billy Seiber, first assistant for the Attorney General’s Agriculture Unit, responded that the property is owned by Ward and “management is within her hands.”

Additional hearings on the case in District Court are pending, but have yet to be scheduled.

Sharon Ward has faced previous animal neglect charges and investigations, according to court and Montezuma and Dolores sheriffs’ reports.

On Jan. 2, the Dolores County sheriff removed six horses from a snowy pasture near Groundhog Reservoir out of concern for their welfare. Ward and her daughter, Lousinda Ward, were ticketed in the case and charged by the district attorney on suspicion of animal cruelty.

Sharon Ward denies ownership of the horses and has pleaded not guilty. The case is set for trial in Dolores County Court on Aug. 1. The six horses were voluntarily surrendered to the Dolores County Sheriff’s Office by Lousinda Ward, and were placed at a safe location.

On July 22, Nowlin served a search warrant for the Wards’ property and seized 14 dogs for alleged mistreatment. The state veterinarian inspected the health of the livestock and ruled a seizure was not required. Upon appeal by the Wards, the dogs were returned, except one that had a collar injury. An animal neglect charge for that animal was dropped for lack of probable cause, according to court records.