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Horse Play

The Denver Dumb Friends League has charged the owner of a Denver-area horse rescue with six counts of neglect, alleging that animals in his charge have suffered and died for lack of proper care.

Bill Stiffler, founder and president of Friends of Horses Rescue and Adoption, has brushed off similar accusations from former customers and volunteers in the past, calling them unfounded, petty attempts to ruin him ("Beating a Dead Horse," September 29). On December 22, he'll have to face an Arapahoe County judge and respond to those charges.

Stiffler started Friends of Horses in 2001 and boasts of having adopted out more than 400 horses to loving homes, thus sparing them the brutal fate of death by slaughter. But Keith Davis, interim investigations chief for the Dumb Friends League, says he started receiving animal-neglect calls for Friends of Horses as early as 2004. He began looking into a series of complaints in June, and since then, more than twenty witnesses have come forward. "I think it's rare that a rescue would find itself in this situation," Davis says.

Is Bill Stiffler friend or foe?
Is Bill Stiffler friend or foe?

The six counts involve five horses and a goat. Davis says Stiffler has received warnings for other animals and has complied with most of them. Warnings were not issued for the animals in question because by the time Davis was made aware of their conditions, they had been neglected past the point of what the Bureau of Animal Protection considers reasonable.

Little Lady, an Arabian mare, was malnourished and hadn't received appropriate veterinary care but has gained weight since being moved from the Friends of Horses property. The others -- a paint mare, a gray mare, a quarterhorse gelding named Mr. Gorgeous, a goat, and a nameless thoroughbred that volunteers called Frankenstein because of the wounds on her face -- did not receive the care they needed for their injuries or ailments. Three died as a result of the negligence. "Two died by euthanasia after they were left to linger and suffer longer than would be reasonable by any standards, and one died without any vet care at all," Davis says.

Davis works for the Dumb Friends League, but he is commissioned by the Colorado Bureau of Animal Protection as a peace officer with authority to enforce Colorado cruelty statutes. Animal cruelty is a misdemeanor in Colorado, but a second conviction can be a felony. Penalties for animal cruelty vary greatly, but Davis says it's possible that the judge could decide that the defendant can no longer own animals.

The Colorado Department of Agriculture is conducting a separate investigation into Friends of Horses that will determine whether it's approved for a farm-products license. (Stiffler was previously selling horses without the required license.) "They are separate issues," spokeswoman Linh Truong says of the two investigations. "If for some reason the [Dumb Friends League] investigation stops him from doing business, his farm-products license could still go through, but it could stop him from doing business on the other end."

 
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