Minnesota appeals court upholds $1.5 million award for miniature pony care

A rural Minnesota vet is set to raise at least $1.5 million from the Animal Humane Society (AHS) after the state Court of Appeals upheld a county jury’s decision from Martin.

This could be the end of a case that began over four years ago when Dr Shirley Kittleson received a call from the society asking her to care for more than 70 miniature ponies that were being removed from a breeder who mistreated them.

Kittleson took the ponies to his horse farm outside Sherburn, gave them medical treatment and sent a bill for $43,000, including $25 a day for boarding each of the six dozen little horses. The Humane Society thought it was too much and refused to pay.

This sparked a long legal battle, with Kittleson continuing to send out a bill every month. When the jury finally agreed that the vet should be paid her normal rate for care, the original debt had multiplied to seven figures.

The Humane Society appealed, resulting in the decision issued late last month. Interestingly, the price now totals more than $2 million, according to Mankato’s attorney, Cory Genelin, who represented Kittleson.

Kittleson said she was relieved the case was coming to an end. She said she was optimistic about the win and just carried on with her usual routine as the case unfolded in court.

“Hopefully it’s finally over,” Kittleson said, adding that the Humane Society “could have saved a lot of money if they had just paid the bill.”

The ponies are no longer with her, Kittleson said. She took them to a horse sale in New Orleans last fall and turned them all over to new owners, including about six foals born while Kittleson owned the herd.

“So I think they all have happy homes now,” she said.

In a statement, the Humane Society said it was “deeply disappointed” with the decision.

“Unfortunately, the 72 horses became pawns in this case, which ultimately sought a large and unreasonable payment from a respected non-profit organization dedicated to helping animals,” the company said.

“AHS has strong working relationships with veterinary, animal welfare and law enforcement partners across the state. We know that our humanitarian workers have acted in good faith, both in assisting law enforcement the order to withdraw the horses and in their dealings with Kittleson.”

The company said it would appeal the decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court. But based on his decades of experience, Genelin said he doubted the High Court would agree to hear the case.

The Court of Appeals decision is pretty straight forward, he said, “and the Minnesota Supreme Court usually only takes up a case if something unexpected happens. So I think we’re on the not to do it.”

Kittleson doesn’t have big plans for the money, but said there are a few things his practice could use.

“We could modernize the building a bit and get some new equipment,” she said. “We were afraid to make a list until it actually happened.”

About Jessica J. Bass

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