The two horses adopted by a Broken Arrow man and then starved to death are the exception to an otherwise healthy federal adoption program, a program spokesman said. Of the hundreds of federal horses adopted in the region each year, fewer than 10 are confiscated because their owners aren’t taking care of them, said Paul McGuire, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Program. "Cases like this are very rare,” he said. "Very rarely do we have something as egregious as starving these horses to death.” Shannon J. Smoke of Broken Arrow pleaded guilty July 1 to a count of felony animal cruelty for the starvation deaths of two horses he adopted in 2006. Authorities discovered one dead horse on Smoke’s land in 2007, and the second horse died soon after. Smoke was given a two-year suspended sentence, 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. He was also ordered to pay $2,797.33 in restitution to the Bureau of Land Management. "Wild horses and burros are highly valued symbols of our Western heritage,” said Linda Rundell, director of the Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas and Kansas region of the bureau. "The American people expect them to be treated with dignity and respect. ... The BLM (bureau) works diligently to ensure that we — and the many thousands of adopters we work with — fully live up to those expectations.” Federal officials check on most horses within one year of their adoption, McGuire said. The horses Smoke adopted had not been visited by compliance officers yet. Limited staff and funding make checking on every adopted horse nearly impossible, McGuire said. About 3,700 horses and burros are adopted yearly. The bureau aims to check on at least 85 percent of horses in their first year of adoption. In 2008, the office responsible for Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas and New Mexico visited 92 percent of horse adopters, McGuire said. Officials do welfare checks if any complaint is registered, McGuire said. Nearly all the complaints officials hear about adopted horses are resolved through owner education, McGuire said. A complaint "may just be a case of ignorance,” McGuire said. "We can go out and work with the adopter. Nine times out of 10, that solves the problem. In other cases, if we find a horse that’s not being well taken care of and it’s apparent, we’ll repossess the animal.” Most horses reclaimed by the bureau are voluntarily given up, McGuire said. Most often, an adopter cannot afford the animal or is moving to a location with less land.
Horses and burros are available for adoption in Oklahoma the second Tuesday of each month through the U.S. Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Program. Adoption events are from 8 a.m. to noon at the Pauls Valley adoption facility on the west side of Interstate 35 at Exit 74, the Kimberlin Road exit. About 70 to 80 horses and burros are up for adoption each month. For more information or a list of animals coming up for adoption, call (405) 238-7138 or go to www.blm.gov/adoptahorse.