SPANISH FORK — A mother and son entangled in a lawsuit between ranchers over the care of their horses have been arrested in an animal cruelty investigation.
Utah County Sheriff James Tracy called it one of the largest and most severe cases of animal abuse he's seen in his 35 years in law enforcement.
Rory and Trudy Childs, who run Smoky Mountain Ranch in Spanish Fork, were arrested late last week for investigation of 101 counts each of animal cruelty and 31 counts each of having livestock at large. No criminal charges have been filed against them.
Based on complaints from the public as well as Deseret News and KSL stories, police started watching horses belonging to the Childs at several locations in Spanish Fork, Mapleton and Spanish Fork Canyon, according to the Utah County Sheriff's Office.
"The horses in these locations are in varying stages of neglect. There has been a lack of appropriate and essential food and water. The horse have also suffered with inadequate protection from extreme weather," a police affidavit states.
None of the horses were in "good" condition, Tracy said. All of the animals were assessed on a 9-scale, with 9 being the healthiest and 1 being the horses in the worst conditions. Tracy said every animal his investigators saw were assessed as a 1, 2 or 3.
At one location, officers said they found a horse stuck in a fence. The horse was so malnourished that it was unable to stand after being freed from the fence and eventually died, according to the sheriff's office. Investigators said they found three other dead horses in the same area.
A veterinarian concluded the horses had been neglected for a "significant period of time," the affidavit states. The horses had also been allowed to roam on other people's property.
"This condition did not occur overnight. It's been a long-term neglect issue," Tracy said.
Both Rory and Trudy Childs appeared in court Tuesday and were released on their own recognizance. Trudy later appeared in court on a separate probation violation.
Tracy said issues of animal abuse and animals running free have been a chronic issue with the duo. There have been instances of the Childs' animals causing traffic accidents because they were running free, he said. A check of Utah state court records shows numerous cases of loose animals involving the Childs.
Trudy Childs was found to be in violation of her probation. But a judge delayed issuing sanctions, hoping a civil suit could be resolved first, which would provide an adequate resolution for most of the horses involved, according to officials.
Earlier this month, the Childs said they were struggling to make enough money to feed the horses. They said they made a deal with rancher Justin Barrow, who helps run Barrow Land and Livestock in Weber County, to help keep and feed their horses.
But the Childs now claim Barrow neglected their horses. Barrow said the horses were brought to him in bad shape and were actually doing better. Barrow also claimed the Childs hadn't paid him for months of feeding the horses.
Both sides claim the other party violated the contract: the Childs claim Barrow didn't take good care of the horses, while Barrow claims the Childs took the horses without being paid according to their contract