It was a tough day Thursday for the caretakers of the Graham horses seized by Pierce County Animal Control in September, as well as for their owner.
Five of the 39 animals seized Sept. 25 were euthanized, and prosecutors charged owner John Diller with 10 counts of second-degree animal cruelty.
I dont know these horses by numbers; I know them by names and personalities, said Animal Control equine abuse investigator Jody Page, who is among those caring for the remaining horses at Frontier Park in Graham. Its hard, especially when you have to make tough decisions. I was absolutely dreading (Thursday).
Animal Control took the horses from Dillers ranch, which officials have described as squalid.
Diller, 69, is scheduled to be arraigned Dec. 27. Prosecutors said additional charges might be filed.
The investigation began three months ago after a Drug Enforcement Administration agent serving a federal search warrant at Dillers 99-acre property in the 30800 block of Meridian Avenue East notified county Animal Control officers about possibly neglected horses.
Officers reported finding the horses living in three rundown barns with inadequate lighting and poor ventilation. Some stalls reportedly had manure piled up to 2 feet. Many of the horses were underweight and their hooves were cracked and overgrown, county officials said.
Dillers attorney, Lance Hester, said his client loves the animals and cared for them the best he could.
Maybe they werent up to optimal standards, Hester said. On the other hand, there are enough animal horse professionals on the property on a regular basis that Im not convinced it was the squalor Animal Control has described.
Hester said that since Dillers horses were taken, he has made several improvements to his ranch, including new fencing, improved shelters and a meticulous barn-cleaning. In November, a district judge said the property was improved enough to accommodate 15 horses.
Animal Control officers returned 11 horses to Diller because a veterinarian determined they were the only ones healthy enough to leave Frontier Park.
Eight have been euthanized five because of health conditions and three because they were deemed too dangerous, which Page said results from a lack of socialization.
Nine of the animals are up for adoption. The other 11 have either been adopted or might be in the future.
That makes days like Thursday easier, Page said.
One of the horses, 27-year-old Arabian Daring, is a success story she likes to tell. He was found in a pasture by himself, surrounded by alfalfa, but couldnt eat it because of the condition of his teeth, Page said.
I tend to root for the underdog, and out of this crew, he was definitely the underdog, she said, adding that she wasnt sure hed be able to be saved or adopted.
Hell be on a special diet for the rest of his life, but he has a new home to look forward to, she said.
A volunteer at the park has decided to adopt him.
Hes probably the sweetest stallion youll ever meet, Page said.
The horses up for adoption will all need special care, officials said. Many will benefit from one-on-one bonding that officials and volunteers dont have time to give, Page said.
Some still are gaining weight and have hoof-care needs, but overall the herd is doing better, she said.
The county said it has paid more than $62,000 to care for the horses. About $12,000 of that came from public donations and $5,000 from donors of equine supplies.
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653
Staff writer Alexis Krell contributed to this report.