Miriam Mahan 120+ animals found in poor condition, others found dead, 6 euthanized

Soldotna, AK

Kenai Peninsula Borough

September 10, 1999

Officials say they will charge a Soldotna woman with animal cruelty after they found about 125 animals at her home, many in poor condition.

Alaska State Troopers say horses, pigs, cows, dogs, cats, sheep, llamas and other animals were living at the home of Miriam Mahan, 36. "Many of these animals had not been fed for some time," trooper spokesman Greg Wilkinson said.

Investigators found dogs and pigs in the living room, sheep in the flooded basement and corpses of dead animals outside the home. Prosecutors expect to file 16 separate counts of animal cruelty, troopers said.

The animals were turned over to the Peninsula Chapter of Alaska Equine Rescue and local volunteers. Donations to help pay for food can be made to the Alaska Equine Association/Kenai Rescue at (907) 262-3759 or P.O. Box 61334, Fairbanks, Alaska, 99706.

Update 3/4/00:  A jury has found a Soldotna-area woman guilty of cruelty to animals. The charge came after Alaska State Troopers found more than 120 animals in poor condition last September at the home of Miriam Mahan. Dogs and pigs were in the living room, sheep were in the flooded basement, and corpses of dead animals were outside the home on Funny River Road, investigators said. Many of the animals had not been fed for some time, according to troopers. Mahan was a fugitive at the time, and her family called authorities because they were concerned about the condition of the animals.

Troopers found 9 horses, 34 pigs, 8 cows, 21 dogs, 10 cats, 18 sheep, 2 llamas, 6 turkeys, 3 chickens, 5 ducks, a goat, a cockatoo, a parrot, a chinchilla and a pheasant, according to prosecutors. The animals were parceled out to private citizens and the local chapter of the Alaska Equine Rescue Association.  A food drive for the special dietary requirements of the animals was organized almost immediately.

Six of the animals had to be killed. Mahan originally faced nine counts of animal cruelty, but the judge consolidated them into one. A jury found her guilty. She faces up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Update 3/14/00:  Superior Court Judge Jonathan Link handed down his sentence for Miriam Mahan. He also put her on probation for 10 years and said she can't own more than one animal in that time - and the animal can't be a horse.

Mahan was already in prison, serving six years for two drug crimes.

Update 9/14/00:  Fred is a sweet bay, a 3-year-old gelding who's adjusted well to his new life in an Anchorage stable and kicks his back legs with joy when set out to run. Only his stunted growth -- he's just about the size of a pony -- belies the malnutrition that one year ago caused his ribs to protrude and led concerned horse lovers to remove him and more than 100 other animals from their original home.

Now petted and nuzzled and cared for, Fred can't know that he, like four other horses rescued with him, doesn't yet have a real home.

It's been more than a year since nonprofit group Alaska Equine Rescue responded to its largest and most unusual animal-cruelty case ever, rescuing 125 animals from conditions at a Soldotna home that some members likened to "an animal Auschwitz."

Court documents describe the scene found by the Alaska State Troopers last September:  "Law enforcement authorities observed filthy, unkempt, poorly maintained pens with overcrowding and piles and piles of animal feces puddled with urine which the animals were drinking. Several animals were running loose. Many were thin, emaciated animals tethered to various objects, some twisted so short they could barely raise their heads, and few with any shelter or any sign of food or water. ... A live pig was missing a hind leg that had been chewed off by some other animals, likely dogs. A second pig displayed a huge stomach tumor touching the ground that was infected. Several pigs were observed fighting with the cow over an unopened loaf of bread.

"... (The) horses were found to be weak, lethargic, thin, without food, water or salt in their small, cramped lots."

Usually dedicated to helping only horses, Alaska Equine Rescue immediately arranged temporary homes for a wide variety of the animals, from cats, dogs and llamas to horses like Fred.  The group had never taken on so many animals at once, president Sally Clampitt said. But it managed. Though they had to send some pigs and sheep to slaughter, members found enough volunteers to nurse most of the animals back to health. With that help and more than $40,000 in donations, protruding ribs disappeared, ailing bodies began to heal and the animals again learned to trust humans as a source of food and care.

A jury in March unanimously found the animals' owner, Miriam Mahan , guilty of animal cruelty. But rescuers weren't legally able to start placing animals in permanent homes until mid-July, after Mahan failed to pay restitution of $30,576 for their care.

With the help of other local animal groups, the group found homes for most of smaller animals. Even sheep found second careers helping to train sheepdogs. But the horses, expensive to care for even when healthy, weren't as easy to place.  Today, with volunteers exhausted, money dwindling and winter nearing, five of the nine horses rescued still need permanent homes.

The rescue has been a financial and emotional drain for 10-year-old Alaska Equine Rescue, Clampitt said. Many of the foster volunteers are fatigued; they'd never expected to have to care for their charges for more than a few weeks.

Ten months of caring for animals left her tired and disheartened, said Kasilof volunteer Barb Kraxberger. But it was the right thing to do.  "If you want change, you have to go through pain sometimes," she said. "You have to go through a lot of inconvenience to stand up for your beliefs."

The group already is receiving calls to help more horses, a problem Clampitt is not yet certain how to approach. But she prefers to look at the positive side.  "What I hope it's done is make us stronger and more prepared to deal with the realities of this kind of situation," she said. "It has certainly brought us into exposure with a whole world of very, very caring people."

Members hope that money received from selling the remaining five horses will go to defray some of the costs of the Soldotna rescue.

Although Bob and Paula Aiken already had three horses, the Valley couple agreed to take on two more when they heard of the rescue last year. They figured they could give up the space in their corral for a couple of weeks.

Eleven months later to the day, the weary caretakers showed off Mr. T, a draft horse no longer able to handle heavy work, and Sweetie, a bay mare who shivers at the feel of a saddle on her back. In the Aikens' care, both gained weight -- more than 500 pounds for Mr. T -- and Sweetie slowly became accustomed to human touch.  "They really think that they live here, and that's sad," Paula Aiken said.

But good news came soon for Mr. T. Two weeks ago, he stepped into a horse trailer and traveled north with new owners from Fairbanks. Now he lives on a small horse farm and entertains children, a situation, Paula Aiken said, that seems made for him.  "It's just exactly what he wanted," she said.

It may be much harder to place Sweetie.  Rumored to be a former rodeo bucking horse with the marquis-ready name "Hellbitch," she's received a new name as part of her recuperation. "We called her Sweetie and hoped that it would rub off," Aiken said.

Described in court documents seven months ago as "a walking skeleton," Sweetie has regained weight. With regular feeding and care, her manners have improved, though she is still learning to live up to her new name. It was 11 months, Aiken said, before Sweetie would even turn her back while being groomed, a gesture of trust.

Somewhere between 15 and 20 years old and only about 5 feet tall, Sweetie is no youngster and will probably never be ridable, caretakers say.  "A lot of people don't want a backyard ornament," Aiken said. "She needs a home with folks that know a lot about horses and would be willing to spend a lot of time with her."

While some of the horses will have lifelong problems or need special care, there are good reasons to buy a rescued horse, said Valley resident Tami Steinbrecher.   Her family just couldn't resist the gentle 2-year-old bay Omar, despite problems in his back legs and a neurological condition that means he may never be ridable. Originally, upon hearing of his problems, they weren't going to buy him.  "But when we got out there, he was so sweet," Steinbrecher said.  Her 10-year-old daughter, who is in 4-H, will learn a lot from helping in his care, Steinbrecher said. And he is a joy to have around.  "He's an amazing horse," she said. "Sometimes we get really upset when we look at him and we think what he could have been if he'd been properly cared for."

FIVE HORSES STILL IN NEED OF HOMES

FRED, an attractive and lively 3-year-old gelding, needs an experienced rider or someone with access to professional training. He has never been ridden.

BEN and JERRY, both about 2 years old, have had no special training and are small for their age but in generally good condition.

SWEETIE, rumored to be a former rodeo bucking horse, just moved to her second foster home. She needs owners "that know a lot about horses and would be willing to spend a lot of time with her," Sally Clampitt said.

LITTLE JOE, the most severe case, is a 2 1/2-year-old that likely will need a lifetime of special care because of neurological damage and impaired motor skills. He will need the horse equivalent of a rest home, said Clampitt, who is seeking such a place in the Lower 48.

Update 8/2/02:  A Soldotna-area woman who was found guilty of large-scale animal cruelty in 2000 has lost her bid to reverse the conviction and reduce her sentence.

The state Court of Appeals last week issued a 15-page finding affirming the conviction of Miriam Mahan . She was convicted by a Kenai jury in March 2000 of one consolidated count of cruelty to animals.

Three years ago, Alaska State Troopers confiscated about 130 animals from Mahan's Funny River Road property.

"We're extremely pleased that the appeal was unsuccessful," said Sally Clampitt, president of Alaska Equine Rescue. "It's one of the biggest animal abuse cases in the state ever," she said.

The rescue group, based in Anchorage, found temporary homes for the horses and the other animals until Mahan was convicted. Once she was found guilty, it relocated all the animals -- except for some pigs, which were sent to a butcher.

Mahan appealed several technical issues of the trial. She had wanted a change of venue and claimed Superior Court Judge Jonathan Link refused to suppress key evidence she thought was unfairly obtained by the state.

While Mahan did not object to her one-year jail sentence, she appealed her 10-year probation, saying it was too long. During that time she can own only one animal and it cannot be a horse.

She also challenged having to pay $36,000 in restitution and argued the state had no right to take her animals.

The appeals court found Link's reasoning sound and rejected all the claims.

Clampitt praised the court's affirmation of Mahan's lengthy probation.  "Ten years' probation with no animals, from my point of view, is more effective than punitive stuff," she said. "I'd rather see somebody be not able to have animals."

Mahan was paroled in May on a separate cocaine conviction and was living in Anchorage, according to prosecutors and the Kenai Adult Probation Office.

Reference:

Anchorage Daily News

Juneau Empire