A Denver officer is losing only one vacation day as punishment after leaving his police horse tied up for 16 hours without food or water.
Officer Joseph Teeter’s horse, named M.C. Hammer, then became ill and had to be euthanized, according to a disciplinary letter dated Dec. 20 and obtained by The Denver Post. However, police say, there was no clear connection between the illness and the hours spent tied up.
The incident occurred on Sept. 26, when Officer Teeter tied M.C. Hammer to a bolt in a stall. Temperatures were in the upper 70s that day, according to the Post.
Teeter said he got distracted by paperwork and totally forgot about the animal he had tied up without food or water. An unidentified person found M.C. Hammer at around 6:15 a.m. the next day. Though the horse initially appeared fine, he began exhibiting signs of distress a few hours later. Veterinarians diagnosed the horse with colic and ultimately euthanized him due to the severity of the symptoms.
The term “colic” refers to abdominal pain, and can be brought on by a variety of gastro-intestinal issues. Numerous veterinary resources note that providing constant access to water is one of the most crucial ways to prevent colic in horses. The University of Minnesota veterinary extension notes that for some horses, going without water for even a few hours can increase the risk of colic.
But a Denver police spokesperson told The Huffington Post in an email that the veterinarian who performed a necropsy on M.C. Hammer was “unable to link the officer’s actions to the horse becoming ill.”
And Utah-based equine veterinarian Charmian Wright, who has no connection to the case, says it’s highly unlikely that 16 hours without water would cause the type of colic that would lead to death.
Lack of water can be a contributing factor to “impaction colic,” which is an internal blockage. But this type of colic is usually treatable and unlikely to lead to death, Wright told HuffPost in an email.
The types of colic that are more frequently fatal are intestinal twists, which she said “seem to happen randomly” and would not be affected by 16 hours with no water or food.
“So while withholding water from a horse for 16 hours is not humane, I agree with the veterinarians who said that the water deprivation did not cause the horse’s demise,” she said. But if a horse already had colic “for other reasons,” she added, “water deprivation could exacerbate the condition.”
It’s unclear which type of colic the horse had. When HuffPost requested a copy of the veterinary records, Denver records administrator Mary Dulacki replied that “there are no veterinary records/necropsy reports in the investigative file” and that the veterinarians had simply been interviewed during the investigation.
Teeter isn’t facing criminal charges. Under Colorado law, animal cruelty includes instances where someone “knowingly or with criminal negligence … fails to provide [an animal] proper food, drink, or protection from the weather.” The police spokesperson said that the District Attorney’s Office reviewed the case, but opted not to pursue charges.
“The incident was thoroughly investigated, and an appropriate level of discipline was administered based on the totality of circumstances,” the spokesperson said. “This incident has been both difficult for our department and devastating for the involved officer.”
Though some news outlets reported that Teeter will be reassigned to another unit, the department spokesperson told HuffPost this is not accurate, and that the officer will remain with the mounted unit.
The department called Teeter’s punishment of one docked vacation day “an appropriate level of discipline” based on “the totality of the circumstances.”
This story has been updated to include comments from Wright.