BOTTINEAU "Bad Boy," a miniature Shetland pony, was beloved by both his owner, Dave Boppre, and many grandchildren. But the beloved pet was taken from them and killed Sept. 24 in an act of rare cruelty.
"He always had his nose in your pocket or nuzzling you," Boppre said by telephone from his home in Bottineau. "He was like an overgrown puppy who liked a lot of attention."
And so tame. The pony that had lived on the hobby farm in Bottineau for a little longer than 10 years would run from the back fields up to the farm house with just a quick whistle and would eagerly hop into the family van when the door was opened. To the top of his back he was but 38 inches tall.
But that September night, estimated at around 10 p.m., the pony was chased from the alfalfa fields by a person or persons in a Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck out onto the road. There he was chased up the road for about a mile, in and out of the ditches.
In Boppre's opinion, they just did it to tire the pony and when he finally got tired they struck it with the truck, breaking a foglight off in the process, and then tied the pony with a halter to the back of the truck to drag him along the road.
Eventually the halter broke, Boppre believes, so the dead pony was loaded into the bed of the truck to be dumped in the middle of the intersection of the roads leading up to the airport and Lake Metigoshe, a road locals call "the Lake Road."
"The hair, hide and meat was totally dragged off up to the cheek bone," Boppre said of what was left of his pony. "You could actually stick your hand past the cheekbone and into the mouth ... There was nothing there at all."
"It's not only cruel and inhumane," Boppre added, "but they could have caused a major accident ... They could have killed an entire family."
Details are sketchy on who the driver of the pickup might be, and a call to the Bottineau County Sheriff's Office garnered nothing but a statement that the case was still under investigation.
The truck, believed to be a 2003 to 2007 model, was identified by information printed on the foglight left at the scene. It was initially believed to be black in color because the casing for the foglight was black, but now that isn't even known.
Sales staff at a Chevrolet dealership confirmed that stock foglight casings are always black in color no matter what color the rest of the vehicle is, at least for those model years.
Responding to the news, one reward fund for locating the person or people responsible for the incident has been set up and another is forthcoming.
Boppre himself set up a container in the lobby of First National Bank & Trust Co. in Bottineau for people who wish to donate to the cause. A representative for the bank said that other than hosting the container the bank is not involved in the process. Boppre said that as of Wednesday afternoon, the community has donated more than $250.
Another fund is currently in the works at the North Dakota Stockmen's Association, based in Bismarck.
"There is a reward in the process," said Julie Ellingson, the executive vice president. The organization is awaiting further information before opening the fund and a statement will be released when the time comes.
"You have to wonder what goes through people's minds," said Ron Thunshelle, a veterinarian at Pinkerton Animal Hospital in Minot, by phone when he learned of the incident.
"In the previous law this would have been, if the people are caught, this would have been a misdemeanor, a few hundred dollars fine. The seriousness of that was not befitting the penalty," Thunshelle said. "It takes a pretty sick individual to do something like that for pure enjoyment."
Although Measure 5, the statewide ballot measure Thunshelle co-sponsored which would have provided felony-level punishment to cases of animal cruelty, failed last November, state legislators passed a new bill, SB-2211, that does much the same thing.
The bill, which can be viewed online (1.usa.gov/19NhR0s), allows first-time offenders of animal cruelty to be charged with a Class C felony. It went into effect Aug. 1.
Animal cruelty is described in the bill as "any willful act or omission that causes an animal unjustifiable pain, suffering, or death, including the infliction of any injury that results in a substantial risk of death, leaves an animal significantly disfigured, results in broken bones, or causes prolonged impairment of an animal's health" and "any willful act or omission that results in a serious illness and leaves an animal significantly disfigured or causes prolonged impairment of the animal's health."
"That would be my intent as a bill sponsor that they (those responsible) would receive the stiffest penalty under the law," said Tim Flakoll, Fargo, a North Dakota state senator and a sponsor of the bill. "This is a perfect example of why we needed more stringent penalties for these bad actors who do these egregious things."
Flakoll said that when the bill was being developed he and others had heard horror stories like a cat being glued to a highway in Minnesota and animals being microwaved, but this news seemed to take him by surprise.
"This appears to be very intentional and prolonged torment that they put this animal through," he said. "I think it's disgusting."
Bottineau County State's Attorney Asmundur Swain Benson II, who works with his son, Benson III, in prosecuting crimes in the county, said that there are not yet charges pending for whoever is charged with responsibility for the act. He said, by phone, that his office is still waiting on an investigative report from the sheriff's department on the matter before determining what charges the crime would entail.
In the meantime, both Thunshelle and Flakoll seem pleased that legislation combating acts like this are now on the books and that this act will be prosecuted according to that law.
"I think it did draw attention to these types of crimes and in essence paved the way for this bill to pass," Thunshelle said of Measure 5. "I think that the new bill is a step up from what Measure 5 was because they did add additional provisions. I'm definitely happy to see the new legislation pass."
"It is sad that these criminals have snuffed the life of a pony whose only wish in life was probably to make children happy," said Flakoll. "It seems as if they stacked one bad act on top of another, and I find their actions repugnant."