By Laura L. Myers
SEATTLE (Reuters) - Animal control officers in Washington state seized 39 emaciated and sickly horses on Wednesday from inhumane conditions in dark stalls filled with feces on a breeding farm outside of Tacoma, authorities said.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents discovered the malnourished animals, many injured and some standing in more than a foot of waste, while serving drug-related warrants on Tuesday at the 99-acre (40-hectare) property in Graham, Washington, Pierce County Animal Control supervisor Brian Boman told Reuters.
Animal control officers and sheriff's deputies from Pierce and Kitsap counties returned to the ranch a day later to seize the animals and found many were highly skittish because they had been "stall-bound" in three dark barns, Boman said.
"It was like a puppy mill, only with horses," Boman told Reuters. "The conditions are terrible. There's no telling how long it's been since they've seen daylight."
Authorities spent more than nine hours rounding up the horses, which included Arabians, Belgian Draft horses and Clydesdales, to take them to nearby fairgrounds for veterinary examinations. None were race horses.
Some likely would be euthanized, Boman said.
A Pierce County Sheriff's Office news release, describing the roundup as the largest horse seizure the county had ever undertaken, cited the horses' living conditions as deplorable.
"Most of the horses were in barns that had large amounts of urine and feces in the stalls," the release said. "Some of the barns had no lighting or ventilation and the smell of ammonia was very strong."
Because federal and county criminal investigations are ongoing, federal authorities would not immediately release the name of the farm's owner, said Emily Langlie, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle.
(Editing By Cynthia Johnston and Eric Beech)