On June 4, 2013, after obtaining a warrant, Anne Arundel County Animal Control impounded four horses, five ponies and several goats from a small boarding facility known as Severn Stables on Upton Road in Severn (located between Fort Meade and BWI Airport).
Severn Stables has been owned and operated by the Sweeney family for close to fifty years (Severn Stables has been in The Equiery’s database since at least 1993). The small farm has provided boarding for a handful of horses or ponies, as well as a smattering of other animals. It is currently managed by Donald Sweeney, who provides ponies for local parties and participates with his horses in activities such as the Renaissance Festival and local horse shows.
According to the AP News Service reported:
Authorities say animal control has been regularly checking the property since January, when a dead horse and two dead baby goats were removed. The other animals were left there, but the owner was required to obtain veterinary treatment for them, provide proper shelter and address other issues.
But officials say on Monday, June 3, 3013, animal control got information from a veterinarian indicating that the animals needed to be removed.
Anne Arundel County Animal Control is housing the seized horses at Days End Farm Horse Rescue in Howard County.
For the most part, Donald Sweeney corroborates this account, but with an explanation. In an interview with The Equiery, Sweeney explained that his elderly horse, Big Rig, had taken a turn for the worse. He arranged with his vet to euthanize Big Rig, but Big Rig died before the vet arrived. It was January and quite cold out. Sweeney explained that he was getting ready to dig a hole to bury the horse, when Animal Control arrived. Sweeney believes that Animal Control was most likely called in by someone living in the new development surrounding the farm, someone who perhaps was upset at the sight of a dead horse. According to Sweeney, the baby goats had been stillborn. Nevertheless, according to Sweeney, Animal Control did leave them with a list of improvements that could be made, and the couple was attempting to comply.
According to Sweeney, an autopsy confirmed that the horse died of natural causes related to old age.
In April, Sweeney and his fiancée Leah Dorsey (who owns five of the seven horses and ponies seized) acquired a horse named Hope from an auction in New Jersey that is reputed to be a feed lot for a Canadian meat processing plant. Sweeney explains that the mare was severely underweight when she arrived. They immediately dewormed her and put her on a high-fat feed, but says that they were having trouble getting the mare to pick up weight, for which they had consulted their vet. During this time, Animal Control visited the farm, and Sweeney assured The Equiery that they were doing everything they could to comply with Animal Control’s recommendations. Sweeney also explained that that was the only underweight horse on the farm. The Equiery does not have independent verification of this.
Mainstream media reports that, according to Animal Control, “several” horses were malnourished and underweight. Sweeney and Dorsey dispute this, and claim that only one was underweight–the one they had acquired from a feed lot. As of press, as Animal Control has not filed any charges, so the number of underweight horses cannot be corroborated.
(Sweeney cited two well-respected vets as his primary and secondary vets; as of press, The Equiery has not had time to independently verify his vets and so is choosing not to publish their names at this time.)
The Equiery has tried to reach authorities in Anne Arundel County, but has–as of press time—neither Anne Arundel County Animal Control nor the Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney’s Office was willing to respond. Despite published reports stating that Anne Arundel County Animal Control is “working closely” with the County State’s Attorney’s office, and the investigation is “active and ongoing,” as of press time, no charges had been filed, nor have any citations been issued that can be found in public records.
Frustrated that the county had taken no legal action against them, and were not providing them with any means to begin the process of acquiring back their animals through hearings or via any charges which they could answer, Sweeney and Dorsey took matters into their own hands, filing a claim on June 11 requesting an injunction against Anne Arundel County Animal Control.
According to court documents, on June 17, District Court Judge John McKenna saw enough merit in their petition to grant their request for a hearing for said injunction against AAC Animal Control; the hearing is scheduled for July.
While flummoxed that the county would seize all their horses because of one underweight horse, and baffled that despite the seizure, no charges or citations have been issued against them, the couple expressed eagerness to have their horses returned as soon as possible, and thus they claim they are willing to work with Animal Control–within reason–to alleviate any concerns Animal Control may have. And they have not been shy in this request, granting interviews to major news outlets, while Anne Arundel authorities continue to remain out of sight.
Ironically, according to the Capital Gazette, AAC Animal Control actually used Severn Stables in 2011 to house other animals temporarily, while waiting for permanent homes.
Original articles reporting the seizure:
Interviews with Leah Dorsey:
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