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Originally published Thursday, May 24, 2012 at 9:24 PM

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Couple seek return of seized horses

The more than two dozen horses seized from a Mount Vernon pasture in early May are in far worse condition that originally thought.

Skagit Valley Herald

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Returning the remaining horses to owners like these people is equivalent to returning... MORE

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Several of 26 horses seized from a Mount Vernon pasture earlier this month struggle with declining health as their owners petition for their return, arguing their condition is not immediately life-threatening.

Snohomish County residents William and Sara Spohnholtz, represented by Redmond-based attorney James McBride, filed their petition in Skagit County District Court last week.

The horses were taken May 1 and 2 from a location in the 14600 block of Beaver Lake Road between Clear Lake and Big Lake as part of a search warrant served by the Skagit County Sheriff's Office.

They were taken to People Helping Horses, an Arlington-based rehabilitation center.

Teryn Cothern, director of operations at People Helping Horses, said the horses were "way worse than we thought they were" when volunteers arrived with them.

Each horse suffered from lice, rain rot, mud fever and malnutrition, largely from having no dry covered shelter available to them, Cothern said.

On a body condition scale used to evaluate the horses, most ranked at a two out of nine, Skagit County Sheriff Sgt. Jenny Sheahan-Lee said.

One horse was euthanized with the consent of a veterinarian after two days of being unable to stand, eat, drink or control bowel movements, Cothern said.

An examination of the horse after she was put down revealed she was filled with parasites and worms and was "rotting from the inside out," Cothern added.

While some horses are showing progress, others still cause concern for their caretakers.

One horse on Tuesday morning ran "almost hypothermic" temperatures and struggled to stand, Cothern said.

However, McBride argues in the petition that the Skagit County Sheriff's Office could have seized the horses without a warrant if their condition was as bad as the agency alleges.

Emily Diaz, animal-control officer for the Skagit County Sheriff's Office, said she can remove animals from a property without a warrant if animals are not expected to live for more than 24 hours, but "it's always good to remove with a search warrant."

No criminal charges have been filed against the couple.

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