A Southwest District Court judge has ruled that the state cannot seize the animals of a Gladstone rancher accused of animal cruelty and neglect.

Southwest District Judge Rhonda Ehlis wrote a 23-page summary of the civil case involving Gary Dassinger, a rancher south of Gladstone who is also facing criminal charges of animal cruelty and neglect. The document was filed with the court on Monday, July 10.

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While the court found neglect on April 22, the first day authorities and a veterinarian had been out to Dassinger’s ranch, Ehlis said the court has not been provided clear and convincing evidence that the animals met the definition of neglect on May 18, the date petition for seizure and disposition was written by the state. The animals are to be returned to the car of Dassinger and he is now financially responsible for his animals again as well as for the care and feeding of them.

“The Court reminds Dassinger that it is his duty now to provide this basic care for his horses and cattle, despite the drought conditions that currently prevail in southwest North Dakota,” Ehlis wrote.

Stark County state’s attorney Amanda Engelstad said Tuesday that the state can appeal the decision, but no decision had been made.

Overview of the document

In his summary document, Ehlis recapped testimony given by Dr. Kim Brummond, owner of West Dakota Vet in Dickinson, in which Brummond spoke about the condition of the animals on April 22.

Brummond had testified that most of the animals she examined had parasites and should have been treated. Dassinger argued that many other ranchers have animals that get sick or are in thin condition and his are no exception.

“The Court agrees that animals can get sick, they can be thin for various reasons, and sometimes, they die despite the rancher’s best efforts,” Ehlis wrote. “This is not the situation on the Dassinger farm. These animals were not given proper nutrition and water. The animals’ medical needs were not addressed. While Dassinger’s piles of dead animals are not necessarily the issue, the fact that they are simply rotting within feet of his food source is a contamination concern.”

The court concluded several of Dassinger’s animals or those in his care were neglected on April 22 and that it would have been appropriate for the state to petition to seize and dispose of the animals. However, Ehlis noted that the state chose to give Dassinger an opportunity to correct and remedy the situation.

Brummond went back to the Dassinger ranch on May 10 for a follow-up visit. Based on Brummond’s report, the animals appeared to be improving and other issues raised by Brummond during the initial visit had appeared to have been addressed.

When Brummond did a final follow-up visit on May 22, she noted more improvements in the animals, but did not view many of them as they were turned out to pasture. The pastures had also greened up by this time so most of the animals were grazing.

The document also recapped testimony given by Dr. Carolyn Woodruff, a Beulah vet who was contacted by Dassinger to do an examination of his animals on May 18. Woodruff gave Dassinger some of the same recommendations made by Brummond, which included feeding the proper quality hay to the cattle and horses.

“This court, while giving credit to Dr. Woodruff for her many years of experience, felt that her involvement in the matter was somewhat jaded,” Ehlis wrote. “First, Dr. Woodruff appeared to rely on Dassinger’s descriptions of what had happened, taking him at his word for the previous condition of the animals. She did not contact Dr. Brummond to get a professional’s opinion as to what the situation was on April 22, 2017.”

The court noted that while there have been improvements in Dassinger’s situation, there appears to be a need for further improvement. However, Ehlis noted that the court found that there is now an appropriate water source and feed and that corrals have been cleaned. The animals have also been treated for parasites.

Ehlis noted that because they gave Dassinger the chance to rectify his situation, even though law did not require the state to do so, they lost the case.

“However, they acted with reason and the understanding of taking a person’s property without notice while balancing their duty to enforce the laws of the state of North Dakota,” the judge wrote.