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Jury trial canceled in Minn. horse starvation case, plea hearing set

Michael Dahl

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. — A rural Waubun man, charged with three felonies in Becker County District Court for allegedly causing the death of three horses under his care through neglect and starvation, is set to go to a plea hearing Oct. 10.

Michael Erwin Dahl, 42, faces three charges of mistreatment-torture of animals.

A jury trial set for Sept. 19 was canceled, and the plea hearing was set up in its place.

According to court records, the White Earth Tribal Police Department was contacted Jan. 24 about three dead horses on property near Strawberry Lake Store, on the White Earth Reservation in Becker County.

A police investigator talked to a woman from out of the country who had left her horse in Dahl's care. Dahl also had two horses of his own on the property. She had wired money to Dahl to buy hay for the horses, and had been texting him about the welfare of the horses. The investigator reviewed the texts.

On Jan. 30, the police investigator and a veterinarian with the Minnesota Board of Animal Health went to the property to examine the dead horses. They determined the horses had lost significant body condition, there was little or no food available there, and there was evidence that their nutritional needs had not been met. Hypothermia and starvation during extremely cold winter weather may have contributed to their deaths.

The investigation was spurred by Amber Shaide of Fargo, a former horse-breeder with deep ties to White Earth who had gifted one of the horses to Dahl, who had been considered something of a spiritual leader in the region.

It wasn't just any old horse she had given to Dahl. The 2-year-old filly was the great-granddaughter of the famed racing horse Secretariat, a Triple Crown winner in 1973, Shaide said in an earlier interview.

She said she gave the filly, worth several thousand dollars, to Dahl as a gift in a spiritual ceremony.

Another horse, a 7- or 8-year-old gelding, was owned by an Irish woman who visits Minnesota regularly on a visa.

Those two horses together were valued at about $6,000, Shaide said.

Dahl rode with her on a 2015 Honor the Earth ride with Winona LaDuke, she said. The third horse was an American paint horse, perhaps 12 or 13 years old, that Dahl got from a horse rescue organization in northwestern Minnesota.

The horses were found dead in late January, Shaide said, but she believes the filly likely died prior to Christmas. There was evidence that the horses had been gnawing on wood towards the end, and the two older horses died with their heads through a fence, trying to reach grass.

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