It’s evening at the Dassinger Ranch in beautiful Gladstone, North Dakota. Emotion overcomes Gerald "Gary" Dassinger as he tells me about having to sell his dairy cattle in the 80’s after three years of drought. Just months later, a tornado took out part of his barn. Tragedy is no stranger to the third generation rancher and its been a long day at the Stark County Courthouse for Gary, who’s fighting charges of animal abuse and neglect.
As Gary drives me around to view the ranch, we approach a herd of mares with foals by their sides. Upon seeing them in the distance, emotion again overcomes him. It’s already evident, after just minutes in the pickup, that Gary truly seems to care about the ranch and his animals.
Once we are close to the mares and foals, I am stunned. These are not animals that look abused or neglected. In fact, quite the contrary. I see what is perhaps the most beautiful mares and foals I’ve ever seen– in a large pasture with plenty to eat and drink.
Gary’s daughter "Missy" exits the pickup and kneels down in front of the truck. Within seconds a mare and her foal approach. From my observations, it would be impossible for these animals to go from a condition of neglect to the condition they’re in now. It simply defies logic.
I know a little bit about abused and neglected animals. As a boy growing up on the farm, my Dad took me to look over a case of animal neglect. It was horrific. Not only were there animals that were rescued from near death, but there were plenty of dead ones too. We rescued a mammoth donkey from that situation and brought her home to our farm. Her condition could only be described as skin and bones and her recovery was long-term, not weeks. A completely different situation than the one I’m now experiencing.
Gary drives on to take a look at some cows. They too are in good shape and impressive. He proudly tells me about growing up on the ranch and even shows me his favorite fishing hole. "Come on down with your kids and I guarantee they’ll catch blue gill and bass there," he says.
In looking at the "boys" (i.e. studs and geldings) in the front pasture near the road, the scene is very similar. The horses are impressive, in fine shape, and are joyfully galloping around. Missy’s voice breaks with emotion – much like her father’s – as she tells me about putting the "boys" together there in preparation for their seizure. Allegedly law enforcement was prepared to load them up without care for gender. That’s a no-no when it comes to hauling horses and Gary and Missy wanted to reduce possible stress on the animals.
The events of the first seizure by Stark County Sheriff Terry Oestreich on April 22nd are also very telling about who Gary Dassinger is. When Sheriff Oestreich showed up with veterinarian Kim Brummond to confiscate a mare and her foal, Gary thought it was a misunderstanding. In an effort to cooperate, he not only lent the sheriff his trailer to take the mare and foal, but he also gave the sheriff the right sized ball for the hitch as well.
Gary’s cooperation comes as no surprise to me by now. To me, he has come across as an open book– a person with nothing to hide.
As we look around the corrals, Gary shows me all the water tanks– each one is full, just as they were the day the Assistant Stark County State’s Attorney showed up unannounced to look at the place. On that day she reached in one tank, pulled out some moss, and threw it on the ground while declaring that the water was unacceptable. Gary has had the water tested. Not only is it fit for animal consumption, it’s fit for human consumption too. A fact Missy illustrates as she leans down and drinks directly from the trough.
On our way to the house, Gary points to a spot in the grass where some car batteries once sat. This was a point of contention for the Stark County State’s Attorney Tom Henning at the hearing earlier in the day. All I could do is shake my head. The car batteries were outside the corrals and not even located in an area that any of the animals could get to.
Gary invites me inside the house to visit. And it is here he shares with me the details of what has happened since the allegations of abuse and neglect started. Oh, and by the way, those allegations originated from someone that doesn’t even live in the state. Nor have they ever been to Gary’s ranch. More on that in a future article.
As I drove to the Stark County Courthouse yesterday to observe court proceedings, I did so with the mentality that there was indeed a possibility that Gary Dassinger is guilty of the charges brought against him. By the time I left late last night, I came away with the impression that should Gary Dassinger be found guilty, it may well be one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in the history of North Dakota.
The implications of this case for farmers and ranchers across the state of North Dakota are huge. If Stark County can ultimately prosecute Gary Dassinger for these charges, then look out. Because the North Dakota you and I grew up in is gone and none of us are safe from the tyrannical abuse of an out of control bunch of activists that know little or nothing about farming, ranching, and animal production.
Stay tuned. I’ll have more in the days and weeks ahead.