Horse Rescue Owner Faces Stiff Fine Over Accidental Bald Eagle Poisoning

A Washington farmer faces hefty fines and possible jail time all because her backhoe broke down before she could bury two horses that a vet had euthanized. Debra Dwelly essentially experienced the wrath of the federal government because Bald Eagles ate a portion of the horse carcasses and became ill from the medication used by the vet to put the elderly animals down.

Debra Dwelly could be forced to pay a $200,000 fine and face up to a year in a federal prison for inadvertently and apparently unavoidably, violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Two horses on Dwelly’s Winlock, Washington farm became ill and were suffering. The horse-loving farmer immediately called her vet and had the professional end the suffering. Unfortunately for Dwelly, her backhoe chose a very poor time to break down, leaving the horse carcasses exposed in the pasture for two day. During this time, seven eagles fed on the horses and became ill due to the sodium pentobarbital that the vet had used while euthanizing the sick creatures.

The Washington farmer had this to say about the euthanized horses and violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act:

“We never, ever thought we were endangering wildlife at all. We tried to do the right thing by having them euthanized. If the backhoe hadn’t broken down, we would have buried them. It was an honest mistake.”

Dwelly owns and operates a well-known and respected horse rescue on her property. Her neighbor, Sharon Thomas, witnessed the Bald Eagles behaving in an odd manner and tried to help the sickened birds. Thomas told the local media that the eagles appeared as if they were drunk. “It was heart-wrenching. Seeing a large, majestic bird falling over its head is very sad. Picking them up, seeing them unresponsive and lethargic. Picking up the two others that seemed dead, their eyes were not open, they were barely breathing,” Thomas said.

The Bald Eagles were ultimately captured and taken to a wild bird sanctuary. One of the birds died, but the other six recovered and were eventually released back into their native habitat. Some other witnesses claimed that more eagles consumed portions of the horse carcasses but fled before they could be captured and treated.

After she was unable to get her own backhoe working, Dwelly contracted another individual to bury the horses. Failing to dispose of livestock carcasses is illegal, even if protected eagles are not involved with the incident.

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