US Judge Bars Slaughter of Nevada Horse in Tribal Roundup

A federal judge has granted a northern Nevada woman’s request for a court order to protect her horse after she says it was stolen during a tribal roundup and fears it could be headed for the slaughterhouse.

U.S. District Court Judge Miranda Du issued a temporary restraining order in Reno on Thursday forbidding the slaughter of the horse named “Lady” owned by Colleen Westlake of neighboring Sparks.

Westlake and the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign filed a lawsuit against the Nevada Department of Agriculture, Pyramid Lake Paiute Indian Tribe and others on Wednesday seeking to protect Lady and other horses gathered during a roundup on Jan. 4 in the Palomino Valley area north of Reno and south of Pyramid Lake.

Du’s order only directly affects Westlake’s horse. She said she’ll address any others at a hearing Jan. 28.

The judge said the tribe and employees of a local contractor gathered horses in Palomino Valley on motorcycles, ATVS and horseback on Jan. 4 and 5. She said Westlake presented evidence she purchased Lady from the Nevada Department of Agriculture last July.

“I just want my horse back,” Westlake said in declaration attached to the lawsuit that Lady was stolen from her friend’s private property.

“I love my horse, she means everything to me,” she said. “No amount of money could replace Lady and I would be devastated if she were slaughtered.”

The Palomino Valley about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Reno is home to a large holding facility where the U.S. Bureau of Land Management often keeps hundreds of horses gathered during roundups on federal rangelands. But the horses in question here are not federally protected because they don’t live within U.S.-designated herd management areas.

In Nevada, free-roaming horses outside those areas are considered feral horses under the state’s jurisdiction. But they don’t include horses that originate on recognized tribal lands and generally are considered the property of the tribe.

Nevada Agriculture Department officials told Westlake they have inspected all the horses gathered by the tribe and are investigating the incident.

Douglas Farris, the administrator of the department’s Division of Animal Industry, wrote in an email Westlake presented to the court that he had received a copy of her brand inspection certificate and a photo of the horse.

“If your horse ... is located, our department will facilitate the return as soon as possible,” he said. He added that the department doesn’t have the authority to grant her request to examine the horses on tribal property.

Westlake said before she purchased Lady and another feral horse last July 11 she met with state brand inspector Chris Miller who initially told her the tribe owned the horses.

“However, after the tribe was contacted, they denied ownership of the horses to Mr. Miller’s satisfaction,” she said.

State Agriculture Department officials did not immediately respond to a request from The Associated Press for comment on Friday.

Monica Moazez, spokeswoman for the Nevada Attorney General’s Office, said their chief of staff was traveling Friday and they couldn’t immediately comment.

The Reno Gazette-Journal first reported on the court order on its web site late Thursday.

Alan Mandell, vice chairman of the tribe, said the roundup was part of a management plan intended to protect natural resources on its tribal lands.

“We weren’t stealing anything. We were just recovering property,” Tribal Councilman John Guerrero told the newspaper.