FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — For more than a year, Brownie was deprived of food and water. An infection clouded his right eye, and his spine and hips were torn open from saddles placed on his back to carry gear for tourists on the Havasupai reservation known for its towering blue-green waterfalls.
The nearly 20-year-old gelding is improving but won't be completely healed for up to a year.
His owner, Leland Joe, forfeited Brownie and three other horses this week after pleading guilty to two misdemeanor charges in a federal animal cruelty case. The Supai resident was sentenced to time served, which was less than a week. He also cannot own or control pack animals for the three years he's on probation.
The horses — Brownie, Lit, Red and Blue — now are in the care of the Coconino Humane Association in Flagstaff, which hopes to eventually place them up for adoption. Joe must pay $1,200 in restitution to help care for the animals.
Joe's guilty pleas to animal neglect and failing to provide medical attention apply only to Brownie, but the other horses were in bad enough condition that they also were seized, association director Michelle Ryan said Friday. Lit lost one eye and has open sores from where the saddle was cinched underneath her.
"It takes a long time for horses to get in conditions like this, and it takes a long time for them to heal as well," Ryan said.
The staff spends more than four hours a day with the horses, giving them antibiotics for their wounds, alfalfa mash for extra calories and spraying them with insect repellent.
Brownie is kept separate from the other horses so that he doesn't have to compete for food. He is about half the size he should be, or 500 pounds underweight.
He's grown particularly fond of operations manager Catherine Meeks who along with other staff members had to soak and remove his scabs to release puss from underneath and cut off pieces of dead skin.
"He's my favorite because he's been through so much and he needs the love," she said, cradling his head in her hands.
Federal authorities say the seizure of animals from tribal reservations is rare. An FBI special agent who visited Joe's property in northern Arizona on April 5 found no food or vegetation for a handful of horses and noted that one was extremely thin and had open sores and wounds.
The tribe generally works with veterinarians off the reservation who make visits to the isolated community deep in a gorge off the Grand Canyon. The village of Supai is accessible only by helicopter or an 8-mile trail.
The humane association has received calls over the years about the condition of horses on the reservation, but Ryan said she's not aware of any others that have been taken by federal authorities.
"To us, we're really looking at this as a landmark case," she said.
Joe's federal public defender, Richard Juarez, did not return messages left at the close of business Friday. A telephone listing for him could not be found.
Joe wrote in court documents that he owned Brownie for about a year before his arrest April 14 on the reservation. The horse hasn't gained much weight since.
"I admit that it was my responsibility to care for Brownie, including providing him with adequate food, water and medical care," Joe wrote.
Most of the 600 tribal members on the reservation work in the tourism industry. Losing pack animals can deal a significant blow to a person's livelihood.