Cruelty charges filed against horses’ former owner

Galveston man charged with cruelty to livestock

Lying about how you care for your horses is not taking responsibility. The three surviving horses are now with us in good hands. But they do need your help, as do all the horses that come to us starved, abused, and neglected by their owners. Your donations make the difference. Click Here to Donate Today. ~ HfH

From: Galveston Daily News
By: Christopher Smith Gonzalez

Galveston man charged with cruelty to livestock

Photo by Jennifer Reynolds
Galveston man charged with cruelty to livestock
Texas City Officer Randall Johnston, left, informs David Altamirano, the former owner of five horses seized last week, he is being charged with two counts of cruelty to livestock Tuesday following a hearing in Justice of Peace Darrell Apffel’s court.

TEXAS CITY — The former owner of five starving horses seized from a Texas City stable was charged Tuesday with two counts of cruelty to livestock animals.

David Altamirano, 37, of Galveston, said he took full responsibility for the condition of the horses as he told the judge he had tried to do something about the horses’ weight loss.

Texas City police took the five horses from a stable in the 800 block of North Orchid near the Kohfeldt Park riding arena Jan. 7 after receiving a tip. Two of the horses died.

Justice of The Peace Darrell Apffel awarded the three remaining horses to Habitat for Horses at a hearing Tuesday after finding that the animals had been “severely neglected.”

Altamirano was ordered to pay the rescue organization about $7,350 for the veterinary costs the group had incurred and for the horses’ future care.

After the hearing, Altamirano was charged with two counts of cruelty to livestock, a Class A misdemeanor, Texas City officer Randall Johnston said. Bail was set at $2,000 on each charge. A Class A misdemeanor can result in up to a $4,000 fine and up to one year in jail.

Johnston said Altamirano turned himself in after being charged. The two counts were based on the two dead horses, Johnston said.

Altamirano posted bail at 4:33 p.m. Tuesday and was released, officials said.

Altamirano also owns a sixth horse in an adjoining pasture, Johnston said. During the hearing, Altamirano said he was willing to have the horse checked by veterinarians.

Taking responsibility

At the hearing, Dr. Michelle Milton said both horses had died because of complications from starvation. All five horses seized were suffering a high burden of internal parasites, said Milton, a veterinarian with Santa Fe Equine Associates.

At the hearing, Altamirano said he took full responsibility for the condition the horses were in.
“I can’t explain how bad I feel,” Altamirano told Apffel.

Johnston said Altamirano had been in possession of the horses for six months. Johnston said Altamirano had not taken the horses to a veterinarian.

Altamirano said he noticed the horses started losing weight in November and tried to do something about it. He gave them an over-the-counter de-wormer, changed the hay he was giving them and fed them horse feed every other day, he said.

When he noticed rain rot, a bacterial and fungal skin infection, he brought the horses into their stalls and he exercised the horses when he could, he said. Altamirano said he intended to have the animals checked by a veterinarian and vaccinated in the coming month.

“I failed because I thought I can do it better and I thought I can bring them around,” he said.

He said he was out of town for an uncle’s funeral last week when he received a call from the stable owner letting him know that some of the horses weren’t looking well. Altamirano said he asked his girlfriend to check on them.

Altamirano said he was in full cooperation with the Texas City police and reiterated that he took responsibility for the horses.

“There is no excuse, honestly, for their condition and for what happened,” Altamirano said. “I take full responsibility.”

Poor prognosis

Amy Snider, an officer with Texas City animal control, told the judge that when she and other officers arrived at the stable Jan. 7, two of the horses were down on the ground.

“The bay filly and palomino actually looked deceased when we first go there,” Snider said.

The two young horses were taken to Santa Fe Equine Associates, while the other three were taken to the Habitat for Horses facility in Hitchcock.

Milton said that when the two young mares were brought in, they couldn’t raise their heads and their body temperature was so low it would not register on a thermometer.

“Had they been left in place overnight, they would have passed, certainly, overnight,” she said.

The horses were started on warm IV fluids and given steroids, vitamins and antibiotics, but Milton said she gave them both a poor prognosis for survival. On a body scale of 1 to 9, with 1 being the worst, both horses had a body condition of 1, she said.

“That is one step above death, essentially,” Milton said.

The two horses in worst condition were suffering from skin infections and were extremely dehydrated and anemic, she said. All five horses showed a very high burden of internal parasites, Milton said.

Evidence presented

Evidence brought by Milton and members of Habitat for Horses included a picture taken during a necropsy.

During the necropsy, it was apparent the parasite infestations were “probably some of the worst that I’ve ever seen,” Milton said.

“It was overwhelming how infected they were,” she said.

The parasites contributed to the deaths of the two young horses, Milton said. Cold weather also played a role in their rapid decline, she said.

Both animals gained strength after their first night under veterinary care, she said. But it is not uncommon for horses in this condition to suffer from re-feeding syndrome, where the gut that has been starved shuts down and starts breaking down fat, she said. Once the animals are re-fed, there can be dangerous shifts in electrolytes, which can lead to death, Milton said.

Asked by Apffel how long it would have taken for the horses to get in that condition, Milton said it could have been weeks of no feeding to months of poor-quality feed, she said.

“It certainly didn’t happen in a couple days,” she said.

Months of recovery

The three surviving horses are being cared for by Habitat for Horses and are doing well, said Susan Moore, lead investigator with the organization.

Jerry Finch, president and founder of Habitat for Horses, said it could take six months before the horses “even appear to be a normal horse.”

“We are going on a very slow re-feeding schedule with them,” he said.

Finch said that if horse owners are running into problems, the organization is available to help.
“But we are not going to put up with skinny and dying horses in this county,” he said.

During the hearing, Altamirano broke down and began to cry, telling the judge he was just as troubled as everyone else by the condition of the horses.

“You might not believe me, but it does hurt to know that my animals were in that bad condition,” Altamirano said. “I do love them. Like I said, my best was not good enough, but I never abandoned them. I never abused them. I never treated them wrong. I am very sad to find out that they died.”

How to help

Donations are being accepted by Habitat for Horses to help cover the cost of the horses’ care. Call 409-935-0277.

Contact reporter Christopher Smith Gonzalez at 409-683-5314 or

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AUTHOR: Amber Barnes
  • V. Fisher

    Crocodile tears and forked-tongue syndrome I think. String ’em high!

    R.I.P little ones.

    January 15, 2014
  • Maggie Frazier

    This owner seems to have all the correct words. But how anyone – horse person or not – could look at these poor babies & not SEE? And the Barn owner – saying they weren’t looking well?? I have to assume that this guy was just renting the barn & was responsible for the care of his own horses. I just do not understand any human being allowing this to go to this extreme. Especially when there ARE organizations (yours) that would help.

    January 15, 2014
  • Margaret

    This guy’s best was poor at best. Horses died on his watch. I don’t know what this food was that he fed every other day but you don’t feed horses every other day. That’s like you feeding your kids every other day.

    There are BOOKS on feeding. There are outreach programs at universities where you can have your pastures tested for nutrition values. What your pastures lack nutritionally you make up for with supplemental feed. Now how come I know this and I don’t own horses???? Because I bother to READ books.

    I saw HoneyBandit about 10 days after Palomino got him from BLM. That little guy was the saddest sack of skin and bones you’d ever see. Palomino moved her bed into the garage and her life. She was with him 24/7 for months. She set her watch every two hours to get up and turn Bandit so he wouldn’t get sores.

    I was with Palomino when she took Bandit to the vets. A couple days before some of his levels were really high and they thought they’d lose him. But Bandit fought like the champ he is. From deaths door–two days later ALL his blood values were normal. Instead of going to the vets everyday for this and that–he was going to go 4 whole days without any vet supervision! And the vet told me when I asked–she said he was closer to a 1.5! He had gained a few pounds! It was a step.

    Want to follow day by day blog about a little mare who was also darn near starved to death? You can see pictures and hear day to day struggles, volunteers who stayed, the joy of watching little Betsy Rose learn to walk in her mobile sling with help. Betsy finally looks like a pony. It has been a LONG 6/7 months. Beauty’s Haven.

    And sadly what little Betsy had to go through these horses will go through pretty much the same thing.

    This guy needs to attend some kind of Pony Club classes that address horsemanship. It isn’t enough to ride and to own horses. You have to do the “real” work. Horsemanship is about learning the day to day in and out stuff on horse ownership. Mucking stalls, cleaning tack, grooming, vet care, farrier and FEEDING. This guy does not know more than a vet. He simply didn’t want a vet to see his horses in this condition because he knew those horses would be confiscated and he’d be charged with animal cruelty. Thankfully he still got busted anyway. And his excuses are worthless in my book cause he didn’t even try.

    January 15, 2014
  • susan rudnicki

    ‘what a bunch of crocodile tears!! The guy looks like he has not missed any meals—seems he notices what it feels like to be hungry. So, he can’t notice lethargy, protruding bones, or what others feed their horses? Strikes me as pathetically oblivious and looking for sympathy. I bet he did more research to buy his cell phone than what he claims to have done to address horrific abuse and neglect.

    January 15, 2014
  • sherriey

    …he was crying? over the loss of his horses??? BULLS#$%! he was crying about being caught and fined and having his mug on the news! self pity party! poor me!!!
    what about them???? what about the suffering they have gone thru??? this didn’t happen in a day….whats wrong with going to an authoritative figure and ask questions why they were not doing well….that is if indeed he was at all concerned about why they lost weight.(Yeah! Right!)whats wrong with getting them Vetted when they started to lose weight in November last????
    and another thing…why the hell didn’t the stable manager/owner step in before they went down? why didn’t that person do something before it was too late??? why didn’t they call the law earlier on? WTF!
    you can bet if they were boarded at my place that this would have never happened…his butt would have been in a heap of trouble and his horses would have been turned over to the ASPCA way before they looked like that or have gone down!
    …and….if the idiot couldn’t have afforded food….then there are rescues that would have helped!
    this whole thing makes me sick!!!!!!!!!!!!

    he and his girlfriend don’t look like they miss many meals….now do they???!!!

    i am so pissed!!!

    January 15, 2014
  • Nancy B

    The sixth horse this guy still has needs to be removed from his care (care?!)

    January 16, 2014
  • j

    he is heading for the South border soon.

    January 16, 2014