Thursday, July 2, 2009


State vet threatens to "dispose" of orphan foals

A wild horse foal stays close to its mother and another horse in the herd as they graze along Lousetown Road in the Virginia City Highlands. Photo by Carl Woodmansee
A wild horse foal stays close to its mother and another horse in the herd as they graze along Lousetown Road in the Virginia City Highlands. Photo by Carl Woodmansee
State vet threatens to "dispose" of orphan foals
By Karen Woodmansee
Virginia City News
Wednesday, July 01, 2009

State Veterinarian Phil LaRussa allegedly threatened to "dispose of" the orphan foals in the care of a Dayton wild horse rescue worker if she did not sign a cooperative agreement with the Nevada Department of Agriculture.

Shirley Allen, who runs the Lucky Horse Rescue Corral in Dayton for Least Resistance Training Concepts, said LaRussa came to her property after she took in an orphaned wild horse foal that residents of Hidden Valley had found on May 23. She named the foal Shelby.

Shortly after the foal was rescued, Allen said, LaRussa paid her a visit and proposed a cooperative agreement that would make Allen a brand inspector and allow the state to give her foals, which are considered state property, for $1 each, and she would be responsible for their care.

"They wanted me to sign a cooperative agreement as a private party, and that's not legal," she said. "So I told them I wasn't comfortable with signing it."

NRS 561.218, Section 2C charges the department to appoint an employee to "cooperate with private organizations and governmental agencies to develop procedures and policies for the management and control of wild horses."

She said LaRussa insisted she be the only party to the agreement, which she told him she could not do because LRTC provided 98 percent to 99 percent of her funding.

"I can't run Lucky Horse Corral alone, and I can't sign it as a private party anyway," she said.

At that point, she said, LaRussa threatened to "dispose of" the foal, which Allen believed was a threat to kill the animal.

"He mentioned four times he would take Shelby and dispose of him," she said. "Disposed of, there's no other word in my vocabulary that means disposed of. Which he knows is a direct threat to someone in the rescue business. When you are a proponent of no kill and no slaughter and they know that, when they start threatening you with disposal of horses, that's coercion."

Allen said she had been doing foal rescues for 13 years, but that officials at the Nevada Department of Agriculture, which is in charge of managing the Virginia Range herds, did not want to work with Willis Lamm, president of LRTC, after Lamm complained about some of the department's actions

"It's a personal vendetta and he's using the foals as a weapon to get his way," she said. "We've tried lots of times to talk matters through. We weren't asking for anything at all and we weren't asking for anything to change at all that didn't need to change. Just to continue making sure foals and other horses were saved."

During their conversation, which was taped, LaRussa said if Lamm had to be involved he would have to "kiss Tony's ass, shake his hand and apologizes," apparently referring to Agriculture director Tony Lesperance.
Allen taped the conversation with LaRussa, as she and some others in the wild horse rescue community had been advised to do by their attorney, and parts of it were posted at

State Department of Agriculture spokesman Ed Foster said the department would have no comment until “the attorney general’s investigation of Mr. Lamm’s Youtube video is complete.”

Lamm said that Nevada law requires that one party to a conversation be aware that the conversation is being taped.

On the tape, LaRussa is heard telling Allen the cooperative agreement did not have to be between the government and a nonprofit group.

"This is an agreement between yourself and Tony to do work for the director to take care of this problem," he said.

Allen replied that LRTC needed to be included.

"My funding, 98 percent of my funding comes from LRTC, the organization that started the whole thing 15 years ago," she said on the tape.

LaRussa said he understood that, and if LRTC was included, Lamm must cooperate.

Allen replied that Lamm would not do that, at which point LaRussa was heard on the tape saying, "You know, we'll take this one back and it will be disposed of…" with the rest of his statement unclear.

Allen responds, "Don't talk to me about any of that."

LaRussa then is heard to say that "we recognize that today, the way things are, that Willis is appearing somewhere in that document, where he might sign it. I can see option number two that Willis puts out 3,000 e-mails saying Tony is wonderful, that he agrees, and he stands in front of the department and shakes Tony's hand."

Allen said she "wouldn't want to go there," and LaRussa said he didn't either.

"But if that does not occur, I do not believe that the director will sign the agreement that has Willis' involvement in it," he said on the tape.

At another point, LaRussa denied suggesting breaking the law.

"We can give you brand inspection clearance and transfer the ownership and you give us one dollar," he said on the tape.

Allen said she was most upset about threats to dispose of the foals.

"He's threatening me, that's how I feel abut it," she said. "He mentioned that (disposing of foals) at least four times.”

Lamm, Allen and Lacy J. Dalton, who founded the Let 'Em Run Foundation have filed a complaint with the state Attorney General's Office asking them to investigate. They say the department was guilty of attempting to sell state property, i.e. the foals, making false reports, falsified certificates and extortion.

Among the items the complaint asks that the Attorney General to do is to intervene to prevent possible disposal of orphan foals and to prevent sale of the foals.

Lamm said the sale of state property complaint was filed because LaRussa offered the foals for $1, though their value on the market would be higher, and NRS requires an organization adopt wild horses out and monitor the adoptions.

"You can't deal horses out the back for $1 each," he said. "If you can take it to Fallon (livestock auction) and get money, it's not an appropriate disposition of state property. If they are placed through a cooperative agreement, they have to be placed through the adoption process, to make sure people are not using state property in a get-rich-quick scheme."

State Attorney General spokesman Edie Cartwright confirmed the department was aware of the issue but declined to give further information.

An investigator could not be reached for comment.

Dalton said state officials would be better off seeking practical and humane solutions to the wild horse issue.

“I really feel their time could be better spent finding a better management program that actually works, including the birth control program that they actually had, rather than trying to coerce people to do things,” she said. “Our government from top to bottom has to start listening to what the people want.”

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