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Vets, volunteers upset over ruling on petting zoo animals

MAPLE PARK – The yearling's hip bones jutted out. Every vertebra of its spine was defined, and every rib could be counted.

And before its hooves were trimmed by a farrier, they were so long, they pointed upward, the farrier said. Running her hand over the animal's rump, back and side, veterinarian Nicole Wessel said this was evidence the year-old horse had been starved.

The yearling's hair was shaved to show the detail of its starvation.

"You should not be able to see the spine or count the ribs," Wessel said. "This is a 1-year-old baby that was near death. I saved his life by giving him [intravenous] fluids. Without that, he would have died."

Another yearling was not so lucky, Wessel said, as it died despite her efforts to save its life. The yearlings are among 93 animals that were impounded from a petting zoo earlier this month. Their owner, Stacy Fiebelkorn of Elgin, was charged with cruelty and a violation of an animal owner's duty to provide food and care, both misdemeanors that are still pending.

Fiebelkorn's attorney, Jamie Wombacher, did not return a message seeking comment.

Wessel is one of several vets and volunteers caring for the rescued animals at one of two locations in Maple Park. They and others in the local equine community said they are outraged at a judge's decision to return more than two dozen horses, donkeys and ponies, and two goats to Fiebelkorn.

Associate Kane County Judge Elizabeth Flood ruled that Fiebelkorn had to give up llamas and alpacas that were among the animals removed – the llamas and alpacas being described as "living skeletons" in testimony at a forfeiture hearing Thursday in Kane County Branch Court.

Fiebelkorn voluntarily gave up the rabbits, poultry and all but two goats, but fought to get the others returned.

Ginger Jensen of St. Charles was also volunteering to care for the animals.

"I've worked around horses since I was 13 years old," Jensen said. "My interest here is to take care of the animals."

Sarah Jane Provenzano of Sycamore, also a volunteer, said the hair on the horses' undersides was matted and clotted with burrs and feces.

"And they had diarrhea and worms,"  Provenzano said. " ... They were walking on their toes because their hooves were so overgrown."

Veterinarian Susan Brown was helping attend to the impounded animals. Brown testified in the second day of the forfeiture hearing that the animals she examined were suffering from chronic starvation.

"The animals were not in any way healthy," Brown said. "I strongly disagree with the judge's decision."

The animals' advocates are focusing on a hearing scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday to determine whether Fiebelkorn should have to post security to pay for the care and feeding of the animals impounded by Kane County Animal Control.

If the judge requires Fiebelkorn to do so, and she does not post the money in five days, the animals would be forfeited. Volunteers are hoping the security requirement will be too high and the remaining animals would not be returned to Fiebelkorn.

In a court hearing last week, Flood did not rule on a request by Kane County prosecutors to require Fiebelkorn to post $36,786 in security to cover 30 days of day-to-day care for the 93 animals, about $1,200 per day.

In April, a hearing is scheduled on a request by Wombacher to stop county employees from speaking about the case outside of the courtroom. In court papers, Wombacher said comments from 36 news stories circulated among 10 news outlets about her client could jeopardize Fiebelkorn's right to a fair trial.

Though she has not yet ruled on the gag order request, prosecutors and Kane County Animal Control Administrator Robert Sauceda have not since commented outside of court and referred all questions to a public information officer.

Wessel, Brown and other volunteers say they are invoking their right of free speech to speak out about the animals' conditions – even to the point of bringing the rescued yearling to court so the judge can touch it herself.

"You can see the horse's ribs and hip bones," said volunteer Cindy Young of St. Charles, pointing to the surviving yearling. "This horse is not even remotely close to the size he should be."

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