PALOMINO VALLEY, Nev. (AP) — A U.S. judge has extended a protective order preventing the slaughter of a horse named Lady that has been missing since a tribal roundup in Nevada, in a case reflecting a long fight over the capture of wild horses on federal land.
U.S. District Judge Miranda Du in Reno also scheduled an evidentiary hearing next Monday when owner Colleen Westlake will have a chance to prove her contention that the horse she bought from the state last year was taken illegally from her private property by a neighboring Native American tribe.
She fears the mare may have been sent to a slaughterhouse in Canada or Mexico.
Tribal officials say they suspect Lady is still on the high-desert range.
Wild horse advocates have expressed concerns that the Trump administration is moving toward allowing some wild horses to be slaughtered, something the government hasn't done before and that Congress has prohibited since 2004.
Horse slaughterhouses are prohibited in the U.S. but legal elsewhere, including Canada, Mexico and parts of Europe where horse meat is considered a delicacy.
Lady and other horses in question don't enjoy U.S. protections because they aren't in established federal herd management areas. They're either feral horses under the jurisdiction of the state or tribal sovereign governments.
The judge refused to apply the protective order to more than 270 other horses rounded up in early January by the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and a contractor trying to recover horses they say strayed from the reservation 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Reno.
Homeowners described a chaotic roundup with wranglers on horseback, ATVs, motorcycles and helicopters. Several said the low-flying helicopters scared horses off their land. One said she chased a contractor off her property with a shotgun.
Westlake says Lady would have returned to the unfenced land next to her home by now if she weren't captured.
Du previously dismissed most legal claims against the tribe and Nevada's Department of Agriculture but allowed Westlake's lawsuit to proceed against department employees who may have improperly authorized the tribe's work.
"No one actually knows where Lady is presently located, and there is a dispute about whether Lady was actually rounded up," Du wrote in a Jan. 31 order.
The state hasn't responded. Its most recent filing, on Jan. 23, denied allegations that state officials "assisted others to abscond with the animals."
State agriculture officials told Westlake they didn't find her horse when they inspected all the animals gathered.
Records show that Utah-based Catoor Livestock Round-up Inc. was paid to transport 117 horses to a Southwest Livestock Auction facility in La Lumas, New Mexico.
Catoor said it does not have Lady and does not know where she is.