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Appleton, Minn., residents plead not guilty to animal cruelty charges; horses found dead, dying in barn

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BENSON -- Three Appleton residents pleaded not guilty Tuesday to felony charges of animal cruelty for alleged maltreatment of four horses found this summer in a barn near Appleton.

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According to the complaints against Leroy Telford Dokken, 64, Joann Marie Dokken, 60, and Michael Leroy Dokken, 36, three of the horses were in poor condition, with signs of malnutrition, dehydration and lice. One horse was dead and decomposed, with just bones and hide remaining, in the barn. The live horses were removed to another location for rehabilitation.

All three of the defendants face one felony and two misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty and mistreatment in Swift County District Court.

According to Swift County Assistant County Attorney Harry Holman, the attorneys in the case will file briefs in the case by Dec. 30 on probable cause -- whether there is enough evidence to warrant the charges. District Judge David L. Mennis will then take the issue under advisement. No future court dates were set.

According to the complaint, a citizen reported to the Swift County Sheriff's Office on June 30 that there were three extremely skinny horses, along with a dead horse, at a property along 230th Avenue Southwest near Appleton. The person also reported there was no food there for the animals.

Sheriff John Holtz went to the barn and found the decomposing animal and three malnourished and emaciated horses. The dead horse was in the same pen as the live animals and still had a halter on its head. There were "just shavings of what was left of a hay bale" and about 4 inches of water in the trough.

The sheriff called the Animal Humane Society, and an agent from the Golden Valley-based agency investigated the complaint. The complaint notes that the pen did not have adequate lighting, ventilation or drainage. There was a manure pack of 1 to 2 feet deep on the floor.

As for the horses' condition, both the Animal Humane Society agent and a veterinarian rated the body condition of the horses between 1.5 and 2.5 on a 9-point condition scale where 1 is poor or emaciated condition and 9 is extremely fat. The veterinarian's assessment included that the horses were suffering from conditions symptomatic of emaciation and dehydration.

The mare had a condition score of 1.5, with the 2-year-old colt still nursing off of her, and a significant lice infestation.

The colt had severe lice, missing hair and scarring on his head from rubbing due to the lice, chronic malnutrition and a condition of 1.5 or 2. He was "very undersized" and the vet was unsure if the animal would survive on a long-term basis.

The gelding had a condition score of 2 to 2.5 on the condition scale and also had lice.

The Dokkens, who claimed mutual ownership of the animals, were interviewed and allegedly told the sheriff and agent that they considered the horses their babies and took good care of them, driving 25 miles each day to care for them and hauling water to the site.

However, they couldn't recall how much or how often the animals were fed or watered and could not recall any vaccinations or parasite control efforts. They said they thought the animals were doing fine.

Michael Dokken said the dead horse died from eating particle board, Joann Dokken said it died from getting snow on its nose and Leroy Dokken could not recall why the horse died.

They named the individual from whom they purchased hay. He was interviewed and said that they purchased a second bale of hay, for the year, on July 1, a day after the sheriff had been to the property.

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