Last month, Animals' Angels conducted an extensive two-week investigation across the Midwest leading them through Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota. Large scale kill buyers, so far widely unknown to the public, were found. These buyers have been quietly operating under the radar, violating the Commercial Transport of Equines for Slaughter Regulations, while shipping thousands of horses to their deaths each year. Animals' Angels decided it was time for their close-up.
Kalona, Iowa's motto is, 'Where time moves at a slower pace...'. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for slaughter-bound horses entering the auction floor at the Kalona Sale Barn.
Investigators were reminded just how risky their jobs can truly be on the morning of August 6, 2012. A driver operating one of the auctioneer's trucks suffered a medical emergency, causing him to lose control over the vehicle, accelerate and ram right into a crowd of people standing outside the auction barn. Six people were struck, with one dying at the scene. Investigators barely escaped.
Once the emergency vehicles departed, it was back to business as usual at the auction. A long line of trucks were observed waiting to unload horses at the loading ramp. "Loose" horses were put into an outside pen area with signs stating these horses, were to be sold "As Is". The majority of the horses appeared agitated and were nervously pacing in the pen. Dominant horses were safeguarding the hay causing some horses to fight, kick and bite one another. Several horses appeared newly injured with fresh cuts and bite marks. Others were seen limping, had swollen legs, or were thin.
Keith Tongen's truck
Investigators checked parking areas for the presence of kill buyers. Scott Kurtenbach's truck and trailer from Lawler, IA, and Keith Tongen's truck and trailer from Brownton, MN, were quickly located.
After the riding horse sale ended, employees began readying the loose horses to go through to the auction. One employee began removing the shoes from the horses, likely in preparation for their final destination, the slaughter plant; while another started moving the horses closer to the sale floor.
Inside the barn, an employee was seen hitting the horses harshly with a stick while moving them toward a loud hydraulic gate leading into the auction ring. Confused by the noise and panicked by the environment, the horses began taking their frustrations out on each other.
The terrified horses continued to be pushed towards the gate. Several were crushed by the gate as they tried to enter. Some of the horses slammed into the gate or the metal tubing with such force that they appeared dazed after the collision.
Compared to the riding horses, the "loose" horses sold at an extremely accelerated rate, with a new horse entering the ring about every twenty seconds. The majority of these 350 horses were being fought over by only three bidders. The kill buyers!
After the sale ended, investigators watched as only Scott Kurtenbach and Keith Tongen's trucks were loaded. The remaining horses were moved back to the outside pens to stay for the night.
Watch the video from our Kalona auction visit...
(WARNING! VIDEO CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES THAT MIGHT BE DISTURBING TO SOME VIEWERS.)
|4 G Trucking loaded with horse|
The following morning, investigators returned and spent the next two days documenting 4 G Trucking from Forest City, MO, Sweeting & Sons from Riverside, IA, and G. Nadeau Express from Ste-Apolline, Quebec, loading horses and traveling south to Oklahoma as well as north to Canada.
The investigation continued at the collecting station of Keith Tongen. Tongen ships about 3,600 horses annually to slaughter plants, and is a repeat offender of the Commercial Transport of Equines for Slaughter Regulation. You may remember that he and James Anderson made the news in October, 2007, when his double-decker tipped over carrying 59 Belgians, killing 18 of them.
Investigators found about 60 horses (most with their auction tags still attached) gathered around hay feeders at his feedlot in Brownton, MN. The majority of the horses appeared to be in good condition, with the exception of a chestnut mare, who had an open wound on her right shoulder. Investigators watched the property for several hours, but there was no activity.
Scott Kurtenbach has been shipping thousands of horses a year to slaughter plants. Also a serious violator of transport law, his offenses include shipping horses unable to bear weight on all four-legs, those with large cuts/severe injuries, and one which was condemned at the plant for gangrene and septicemia.
At his collecting station in Lawler, IA, on August 9, 2012, investigators observed dry lots containing about 120 horses. Several of the pens were greatly over-crowded leaving the horses barely enough room to move around.
There was quite a bit of commotion, with trucks coming and going. Horses were being moved. Disturbingly, investigators discovered what appeared to be a pile of horse bones discarded in a shallow ditch next to his property. Kurtenbach hasn't slowed down since he started, and investigators will continue to monitor his activity.
Mike O'Connell is a kill buyer out of Mobridge, SD, that has been buying horses at auctions across the Midwest/Southwest for 40 years. At his location there were approximately 50 horses and a few goats held within his run-down, trash-infested collecting station. Investigators easily determined that several horses appeared thin. In the surrounding fields, many pregnant mares were seen with nursing foals by their sides. The fields contained debris which puts the horses, and especially their curious foals, at risk of obtaining serious injuries.
Randy & Tanner Musick operate Musick Livestock in Mitchell, SD. The Musick's have been in the slaughter business for a long time, and are not strangers when it comes to transport violations. Greeting investigators at their collecting station was a large horse statue and a sign reading: "Horses Bought Daily".
Approximately 50 horses were seen standing amid manure piles in the pen area and surrounding fields. Several horses were thin, and had scratches or bite marks. When investigators arrived the next morning, one truck and double deck-trailer observed the day before, was gone and fewer horses were counted.
The Midwest provides a steady stream of inventory for kill buyers and others in the business of selling horse to be slaughtered. Animals' Angels will increase our presence and give it the full attention it deserves.
Read the full length report about this investigation...