Pennsylvania law prohibits the sale of any horse, "which by reason of debility, disease or lameness or for other cause, could not be worked or used without violating the laws against cruelty to animals…" In August, a 10 year-old gelding named Phoenix arrived at the New Holland Sales Stables, accompanied by Arlow Kiehl of Watertown, NY. Kiehl was planning to sell the horse for its owner Wayne Gonyaw, also of New York. The horse was lame, suffering from a chronic and painful hoof disease. Pennsylvania’s cruelty statute also prohibits the transport of a horse suffering from debilitating injury or disease, unless the objective is to transport the animal to a clinic or other facility for treatment or euthanasia.
Veterinarian James Holt, who works at the sales barn, pulled Phoenix out of the sale. "I was at the sale that Monday and saw that horse and removed him from the sale because he wasn’t fit for sale in my opinion," Holt explains. "He was in the barn and the customary thing I do is pull their tags off, call the office and have him removed from the sale."
Holt said that when he called the office, he was told that Kiehl had brought the horse to the auction. "I went and spoke to Arlow about the horse and told him he wasn’t fit for sale and why."
New Holland Sales Stables attract buyers who are looking for horses to ride, buyers who are planning to ship the horses to Canadian abattoirs, buyers who want to rescue horses. It can be a volatile environment, due to the conflicts inherent in such disparate motivations. "There were a number of other people walking around the sale. They saw a horse without a tag on it. The majority of horses without tags were pulled out of the sale," Holt says. Rescue groups are especially interested in the horses without tags, because those horses have been deemed not fit for sale and are in more immediate need of help.
Holt explained that a woman who rescues horses, Sherri Crider, called him and asked if she could buy Phoenix and get veterinary help for him. Crider said someone she worked with—Sabina Mattern—was at the sale, and would be able to take care of Phoenix. "Because of the sensitivity of all this stuff that goes on, I talked to Arlow—and he said he did not own the horse." He said that Mattern and Kiehl spoke to Phoenix’s owner by phone, and Mattern took possession of the horse.
A Painful, Debilitating Condition
Holt knew the horse was in terrible pain. "I treated it with a dose of bute," he says. Mattern wanted to ship Phoenix to New Bolton Center to be checked, Holt says. "I believe he was foundering and suspected he’d be put to sleep pretty rapidly. I could have put him down at the sales barn, but those kinds of things, I would like to know a little more." The veterinarians at New Bolton Center euthanized Phoenix the same day he arrived, ending the horse’s pain.
Not a Stranger to Controversy
Keith Mohler is a Humane Police Officer for the Pennsylvania SPCA, and he was contacted by Mattern. "I knew nothing of it (the attempt to sell Phoenix) until I got the calls from the person who bought the horse," he says. He subsequently arrested Kiehl and charged him with animal cruelty. Mohler says that both Kiehl and Gonyaw were fined $750 for transporting and attempting to sell the horse. In addition, the owner was ordered to pay $649 in restitution for expenses related to the euthanasia. Mohler says that the $1500 paid by Kiehl and Gonyaw went to the municipality and the $649 in restitution went to the person who paid Kiehl for the horse.
Kiehl has been cited numerous times for issues relating to transport of horses. He is no stranger to the New Holland Sales Stables, and has been arrested in Pennsylvania and New York and fined for offenses ranging from transporting horses in double-decker trailers, to unsafe transport of horses. In 1998 two animals found on one of his trailers at the New Holland Sales Stables were euthanized because both had broken legs. He was never charged in that incident because he claimed he did not know how the animals got onto his trailer.
A Sad End for Phoenix
Horses bring millions of dollars in revenue to a lot of people in Pennsylvania. With a thriving race horse breeding industry and wildly successful casinos that owe their existence to the race tracks, it’s easy for some people to view horses as commodities. The laws meant to protect animals from abuse should act as deterrents to those who are otherwise not inclined to think about the pain and suffering they’re causing for animals. One newspaper called the $1500 in fines and $649 in restitution paid by Kiehl and Gonyaw, the owner of the horse, "heavy fines." Were they really?
Phoenix endured what must have been an excruciatingly painful trip from New York to Pennsylvania. It’s hard to imagine what price his owner thought this damaged, debilitated horse could fetch at the auction, and even harder to understand how a person could put an animal through such an ordeal. Clearly the threat of economic penalties did not deter cruelty in this case. The rest of the safety net meant to protect horses—though meager—actually did work for Phoenix, when Holt pulled him out of the sale. It worked again when the Humane Police Officer arrested Kiehl and charged him with cruelty, and when the rescuer loaded him onto a trailer for one final ride.