WALTERBORO — A Bible camp owner is demanding a jury trial to fight 43 charges of animal cruelty after Colleton County animal-control officers seized horses the county said were underfed and abused.
Gift Horse Bible Camp Owner Eddy Ackerman of Cottageville appeared at a hearing this week. Magistrate John McLeod granted his request for a jury trial on the animal-cruelty charges. A date has not been set.
Ackerman also is appealing a previous ruling that the county should keep the horses.
Ackerman said the horses were skinny because they had worms that were resistant to the pills he was giving them. He said he called the county for advice and was using medicine a county veterinarian had recommended. He contends neighbors who didn't like the horses pressured county officials to find a reason to take them.
"To my way of thinking, it's absolutely ludicrous to say it's illegal to have a sick horse," Ackerman said Wednesday. "That would be like saying it's illegal for parents to have sick children."
Animal-control officers said they found moldy oats on the ground and algae-filled water in the buckets when they seized the horses May 5. Ackerman disputed the report.
The county has spent about $49,000 nursing the horses back to health and feeding them, Animal Control Director Tim Lynes said. Each horse has gained about 150 pounds under the county's care, he said.
The county has been caring for 14 horses at the shelter on Poor Farm Road. The Livestock Equine Awareness and Rescue Network is caring for the rest of them. The county has been paying all the food bills, Lynes said.
The county won't put the horses up for adoption until after Ackerman's appeal, Lynes said. The maximum penalty for each offense is $500 and 60 days in jail. He's looking for help caring for them in the meantime.
Ackerman said the animals would be fine eating grass at the camp, as they have for the last 40 years.
"They were created to eat grass," Ackerman said. "They don't have to have all the other stuff that people feed them. We've got grass growing out here knee-high because the horses aren't out here to eat it."
He said he's fighting to get the horses back because he uses them to work with boys who don't have fathers.
Donations to help care for the horses can be sent to the Colleton County Animal Shelter, 33 Poor Farm Road, Walterboro, SC 29488.