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Charges filed in neglected horses case in Butler County

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By Liz Hayes and Braden Ashe
Friday, June 28, 2013, 6:33 p.m.

A Clearfield Township, Butler County, woman faces 23 counts of animal cruelty stemming from the seizure of 10 malnourished horses from her property in May.

Citations for Helen Louise Welter-Lewis, 57, were filed Friday with Evans City District Judge Wayne Seibel. Charges were filed there because a district judge closer to Clearfield recused himself from the case.

New Castle-based state police Trooper Shawn King, an animal cruelty investigator who spearheaded the May investigation, reported the horses were “found to be emaciated and living in poor conditions” on the property near Route 422 in Clearfield.

Equine Angels Rescue in Jefferson Township took in the malnourished Missouri fox trotters after police seized the horses.

“They were in need of veterinary care and proper nutrition,” King said.

The horse rescue founder, Pam Vivirito, said the horses are expected to survive despite the poor condition in which they arrived.

Three of the horses are currently fighting infections in the lining of their abdominal cavities as a result of botched castrations. Vivirito believes Welter-Lewis hired members of the Amish community to perform the operations, something she said is not uncommon in the area.

“They basically were butchered,” Vivirito said.

The abdominal infections in three of the horses have affected their hind leg mobility and have slowed their recoveries. The remaining horses are rapidly returning to a healthy weight, she said.

Dr. Brian Burks of Fox Run Equine Center in Washington Township has been helping care for the animals. The veterinarian said several of the horses were as much as 300 pounds underweight when Equine Angels Rescue took them in. Most had lice and shaggy coats, which indicates malnutrition.

The horses are without prior veterinary records, so Burks can't know of any pre-existing conditions the animals may have.

Vivirito said the addition of the 10 horses, which range in age from about 1 year to teenagers, puts the total number of horses at the rescue around 50. She's had to set up temporary stalls and have some of her smaller horses share the 12-by-12 foot stalls to make room for everybody.

Equine Angels took in 18 other horses in the past few weeks, Vivirito said.

“There are no other rescues around here,” she said. “It never ends.”

Eventually, the horses likely will be put up for adoption, but Vivirito said they can't be released until they are healthier and until any legal procedures with the owner are completed.

“I can't believe someone would let this happen to these animals. I just hope they keep recovering well. We are doing our best.”

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or

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