PRESTON, Minn. (AP) — A southeastern Minnesota man was charged Tuesday with animal cruelty and improper disposal of dead animals after investigators found numerous sick and starving horses on his farm, where they were allegedly given little hay or water.

The criminal complaint filed in Fillmore County says investigators seized 55 horses from the farm of Wilbur Eugene Schmoll, 80, near LeRoy late last month. Five horses were so sick that veterinarians from the University of Minnesota had to put them down, according to the complaint.

The complaint contains graphic descriptions of starving horses, with many suffering from other untreated conditions, including pneumonia, eye problems, various infections, parasites, lameness and overgrown hooves.

Also Tuesday, the Minnesota Horse Welfare Coalition announced the launch of the Minnesota Hay Bank, which will work to connect hay and feed suppliers with horse owners who are having trouble feeding their animals because of high prices for hay and feed.

The complaint alleges Schmoll has a long history of animal neglect and is either unable or unwilling to provide adequate care for his horses.

“The evidence appears to indicate that Schmoll is engaged in behavior that demonstrates a pattern of culpable negligence that results in emaciation, suffering and the eventual death of horses under his direct care and control,” the complaint alleges.

Schmoll does not have a listed phone number and could not be reached for comment. Fillmore County Attorney Brett Corson said he’s not been notified of Schmoll having a lawyer.

Deputies who went to Schmoll’s farm to investigate a tip of horses in poor condition reported finding several dead horses, including six piled in a small hole where several dogs were eating them, the complaint says.

Schmoll has not been arrested, but is due to appear in court Jan. 15. He faces 25 animal cruelty counts and one of improper disposal of dead animals. The charges are all misdemeanors, carrying up to 90 days in jail and-or a $1,000 fine, except for one gross misdemeanor for improper disposal of animal carcasses, which is punishable by one year in jail and-or a $3,000 fine.

The Minnesota Horse Welfare Coalition welcomed the charges and used the case to publicize its new hay bank, which began with $3,000 in startup funds from the Minnesota Humane Society and a private donor. Coalition spokeswoman Stacy Bettison said the group hopes to raise an additional $7,000 by the end of the month. The hay bank works like a food shelf, she said, except that it supplies hay to horse owners who’ve fallen on hard times.

Given the high cost and tight supplies of hay caused by this summer’s drought, Bettison said, the problem is bound to get worse as the weather gets colder.

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