On March fifth, 2015, long-time Wisconsin horse abuser Michael Feist was finally convicted of 34 counts of neglect/mistreatment. Four of those counts were felonies. The pictures of dead and starving horses shown during the trial were disgusting and heartbreaking. You can read more about the conviction here.
Many of you readers did a lot to make this happen. After so many years and so many different farms, you finally got the authorities to listen.
UPDATE: Sentencing in December 2015
Unfortunately, Michael Feist will only serve ONE YEAR in jail for all the suffering he inflicted... AND he gets to keep most of his horses. Yes, that's right, despite being convicted for tying up healthy young horses until they starved to death in their own filth, he gets to keep owning equines. He has 80 horses, and he gets to keep 50 of them. Not happy with that sentence? Contact the judge and tell her that next time, you expect her to treat severe animal abuse like a real crime.
Hon. Judge Molly E GaleWyrick
1005 West Main St
Balsam Lake, WI 54810
What follows is a re-cap of this case.
This is Brenda Weierke-Feist and Michael Feist. They were both investigated for neglect by Polk County for the horrible condition of many of their horses, sheep, goats and other animals on their farm at Otter Creek Ranch, 2055 State Hwy 46 N Milltown WI (south of Luck, WI).
Upon inspection, at least 15 horses at Otter Creek Ranch scored a one on the Henneke scale, the absolute thinnest a horse can be before death. None of the horses on the ranch scored higher than a 3 (5 is considered normal). The Feist's barn was stuffed with manure. Sheep and other animals were living in filth. Feed troughs and water buckets everywhere were empty.
In November 2013, Michael Feist was charged with 34 counts of animal mistreatment/neglect. Despite this, and despite public outcry, he and his wife were allowed to keep all of their animals. Protests outside the ranch by dedicated volunteers unfortunately did not work.
|Peaceful protesters gather|
In December of 2013, autopsy reports from four horses found dead at Otter Creek were released. They reveal that the horses died from malnutrition and parasite infestation. At least two of the horses had almost zero body fat, meaning that they had been starved for a long time. You can read more here.
In January of 2013, Michael Feist was arrested for threatening a deputy with a sledgehammer. The deputy was visiting Feist's farm for a court-ordered inspection of his horses. You can read more here.
Pictured throughout this post are a few of the Feist's 80-100+ horses. At least four horses were found dead on their land, and many others starving... and still being ridden. Before they shut down their Facebook page, they actually proudly posted pictures of starving horses being ridden and led. (Kids' faces are blacked out.)
Some have said that we should pity and help the Feists. However, it's clear that these people are habitual horse hoarders, and they have been neglecting animals for years.
As far back as 2012, concerned rescuers were trying to work with the Feists to save some of the horses in the worst conditions. This photo on the right shows the horrible slipper-feet of one horse they attempted to help.
In 2011, the Feists were living in New Richmond. They were foreclosed on, and the county eventually sold the farm to Pat McNamara. McNamara has come forward to describe the horrific conditions he found there. He says it took a year and a half to clean up the devastation left behind:
“[This] barn…there was probably four feet of manure in here,” McNamara said. “And no water, no lights, no nothing. He should never be allowed to have animals again." McNamara also described starving animals belonging to the Feists. You can view his personal testimony on a news report and interview done by CBS-- just click the picture below.
Before the Feists left their New Richmond farm, St. Croix County authorities had investigated reports of neglect at their farm... but never pressed charges.
The Feists moved to Milltown, WI. A neighbor of the Feists, Chris Nelson, went on television to describe the conditions at Otter Creek:
"All the horses' ribs are sticking out... their hip bones, back bones, their withers... they're just skin and bones." Nelson had gone to Otter Creek to donate hay.
Although we don't have a ton of photos except those Otter Creek themselves posted to Facebook, many eyewitnesses besides Nelson who have also been to the ranch reported that dozens of horses in trouble.
These are a few of the articles and videos that were published in the media:
According to The Ledger, a newspaper local to Otter Creek Ranch, "The Polk County Sheriff's Department has been beleaguered with calls from animal advocates..."
Wis. Ranch Under Investigation After Horses Found Dead
Polk County Authorities Investigating Horse Ranch Owner
Polk Co Farm Owners Accused of Horse Neglect
Now I'd like to take a moment and address the "pity factor" in this case.
There are a good number of folks attempting to defend the Feists. They're saying, "Oh, don't blame them, help them! They were just having problems! Stop being mean! The horses weren't so bad!"
To these people I say:
- The Feists have been starving horses for years. Their history shows their "good intentions" are lies.
- If you don't believe the horses are "that bad," you clearly haven't seen the pictures, listened to the eyewitness accounts, or visited the farm.
- The fact that the Feists moved from one farm only to continue neglecting horses at their next farm shows they won't change.
- There's no excuse for starving horses. If you can't feed them, you can get help from hay banks and horse rescues, or sell your horses, or give them away, or euthanize them-- you don't let them suffer!
- Whatever "bad luck" or "hard times" someone might experience does not excuse their allowing animals to suffer!
In addition, I've heard another (as yet unconfirmed) explanation for why the Feists haven't been able to get hay: they've written so many bad checks to hay dealers that no one will sell to them. This seems entirely believable, because the criminal records of the Feists are very, very long and contain dozens of cases showing that they failed to pay thousands of dollars in debts over the last decade. You can search for the criminal records of Brenda Weierke / Brenda Feist, and Michael Feist yourself by entering their names at the free-to-the-public Wisconsin Circuit Court Access-- or you can simply click on the pictures below to see a snapshot of the first pages of those records:
|Brenda Weierke's case file, page 1: click to enlarge|
|Michael Fiest's case file, page 1: click to enlarge|
More pictures from Otter Creek's own Facebook page (they seemed proud of these pictures):
I would like to ad that Wisconsin is one of the worst states in America when it comes to protecting animals. Even Mississippi, the poorest state in our nation, is ranked more highly when it comes to anti-animal abuse laws and the enforcement of those laws. It is only thanks to readers like YOU that some authorities here have been convinced to act in cases of severe neglect (examples below). If you would like to start changing this, please support the Wind Chill bill, which would strengthen the definitions of animal abuse/neglect and increase penalties for those who harm the innocent, voiceless creatures in their care.
- Barb Thiry killed horses and other animals for decades. She left behind literally an entire farm full of animal corpses. Eventually, she was charged for what was really probably the some of the least horrible neglect she's perpetrated in her life. And she was charged because we made a fuss. We called, wrote, emailed, we got the media out there, we walked up to Waupaca cops on the street, and some even protested across the road from where the horses were kept.
- In the horrific Pleasant Prairie/Kenosha County case, the cops took years to act, despite frequent calls from neighbors about the 30 suffering horses. It took media coverage, a constant bombardment of complaints from people across the state (and nation!), and finally, people showing up to the abuser's property with horse trailers before the cops intervened.
- And remember Mary Loeffelholz of Belleville, WI? Over a decade of neglect reports by neighbors did nothing, but finally media coverage and public pressure at least got the cops to make her surrender most of her horses. (Although she still has horses and has never faced any charges.)