Stolen horses safely recovered from slaughterhouse fate

ARLINGTON — Eight stolen horses were saved from slaughter Tuesday after they had been hauled to a collection site for a Canadian meat-packing plant.

Their owner went to check on them on property where they were being boarded in the 16000 block of Grant Road east of Arlington. When the owner arrived, the gate was open and she found ruts from fresh tire tracks. There were no signs of the horses.

The owner knows the suspects — 64, 59 and 56, officials said. No arrests have been made.

It will be up to her to decide whether to press charges, Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Shari Ireton said.

The woman and one of the suspects reportedly had a squabble that somehow involves the horses.

The woman reported her horses were missing to the sheriff’s office Tuesday afternoon. She tracked them to the Florence Packing Co. grounds near Stanwood. It operated as a slaughterhouse until 1992 and now exports horses to Canada.

One of the people accused of stealing the horses went through an intermediary to supply the horses to the company, Ireton said.

Florence Packing owner Wayne Lindahl said the horses arrived around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. Later in the day, the horses’ owner called Lindahl to ask if anyone brought him eight head of horses. She went on to describe them in accurate detail.

Lindahl told her he had them and would keep them for her. They made arrangements for their return.

“I don’t know what happened,” he said. “I don’t know the whole story.”

Deputies are convinced that neither the middleman nor Lindahl were aware the horses had been taken against the woman’s will, Ireton said.

The horses reportedly were sold as a group for $2,200, Ireton said.

There are no horse slaughter facilities legally operating in the United States. The last were closed in 2007. For now, the federal government is not funding inspectors for such operations. Still, thousands of horses are exported for slaughter each year at plants in Canada and Mexico.

The Snohomish County Council two years ago banned killing horses locally as a human food source.

The law prohibits slaughtering equines if a person knows “that any of the horse meat will be used for human consumption.” It applies to any horse, pony, donkey or mule.

The ordinance makes it clear that nobody can be held legally responsible for selling a horse to another person who later slaughters it. That allows feed lots to continue exporting horses for slaughter elsewhere.

The market for horse meat is almost entirely overseas. For many Americans, eating horse is equivalent to eating a pet. However, it’s widely consumed in parts of Europe and Asia. Even with a de facto ban on horse slaughterhouses, more than 100,000 U.S. horses are still exported each year for slaughter in Canada and Mexico.

The suspects could be arrested for first-degree theft of livestock, which is a felony.

It was the second time deputies have investigated a case of livestock theft this year.

In November, an Arlington area woman reported that two Hampshire pigs were stolen from her property.

A detective was able to track down a suspect, 40, and the pigs, which were reunited with their owner.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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