Despite 35 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty pending against horse breeder Lowell Friday, an attorney has urged the city of East Bethel to grant him a new land permit for his horses. She says it's for the sake of the animals.

Friday's previous permit to keep horses expired in March, and the city ordered him to remove the 27 that were on his ranch at the time.

But there's a geographic twist: The property spills into Ham Lake, where similar permits are not required. Friday's barns, water and feed are on the East Bethel side, but he could legally move the horses to the Ham Lake portion, where there are few amenities for them, Roseville attorney Allison Eklund told city representatives and nearly two dozen protesters at a public hearing this week.

"A decision to deny the permit to Mr. Friday will put the horses at risk of neglect," Eklund said.

Friday's application, which needs City Council approval, has nothing to do with the 35 counts against him. He returns to Anoka County court next week for a pretrial hearing in that case; he had 17 horses seized from his property last year by Anoka County and Humane Society officials. Veterinarians reported finding many of the horses malnourished, infested with parasites and living in hazardous conditions.

"I'm asking the City Council to be reasonable, to grant him a temporary permit until his criminal charges are decided," said Eklund, who is not Friday's trial lawyer but was retained by him to speak before East Bethel officials. "Mr. Friday is being forced into an impossible situation."

Stephanie Hanson, East Bethel's planner, said her staff has recommended the council deny the request. A vote is expected in June.

But moving horses to Ham Lake could also be complicated. That city has ordinances concerning acreage, pen sizes, feed lots and fence standards. Ham Lake zoning official Dawnette Shimek said she did not know whether Friday's property meets those standards.

Friday had "water barrels so slimy and green that you wouldn't want your worst enemy to drink out of it," said Sharon Riley, of Fridley, who said she worked on Friday's ranch for two years. "I don't think he intentionally does this," Riley said at Monday's hearing. "I don't think he knows he's doing anything wrong."

Friday chose not to speak at the hearing, which was overseen by retired Judge J.E. Cast.

First known felony conviction

This year, Minnesota prosecutors have independently adopted an unprecedented tough stance in animal cruelty cases involving horses. Last month in Pine County, Jonathan Dale Gardner was convicted of felony mistreatment and torture of an animal for not providing sufficient food to a horse that died. It was Minnesota's first felony conviction in a horse case, according to the two Humane Society agents who have investigated horse cases in the state over the past 25 years. Felony charges are pending in two other horse abuse cases in Olmsted and Waseca counties.

But Friday, 72, who pleaded guilty in 2009 to one misdemeanor count of mistreating horses, has become a poster child among horse advocates and animal rights activists. An online petition against him has gathered nearly 800 signatures. Friday is trying to reduce his herd while a Facebook page has discouraged followers from buying his horses.

"We're not against Lowell Friday; we just want to see the horses flourish," said Gina Benson, of the northwestern Wisconsin advocacy group "Standing Together for Horses."

Melissa Mork, of Spring Lake Park, said she summoned authorities to Friday's ranch five years ago after her daughter, Piper, "noticed horses in the back pasture starving." Piper, now 12, said the most emaciated horses were in the back of the herd, where few passersby could notice them. Mork's calls to authorities ultimately led to Friday's conviction in 2009, but Humane Society investigator Keith Streff said he's been receiving complaints about the way Friday maintains horses for 13 years.

When horses were seized from Friday's farm last August and November, several were graded at 1 or 1.5 on a scale of 1 to 9, with 1 being emaciated and 9 grossly overweight.

But those ratings can be subjective, according to Don Henneke, the Texas-based equine expert for whom the rating system is named. After reviewing photos of seized horses provided by Friday, Henneke stated in a letter written Feb. 14 that he would rate two of the horses at 5.

Regardless of ratings, several of Friday's horses have gained hundreds of pounds since being seized. Candy Phillips, of Truhaven Ranch in Winsted, Minn., said that one of them has gained 270 pounds under her care. Another, Crystal, a paint filly that was graded a 1 when seized last November, was so weak that her hind quarters collapsed when authorities tried to load her into a trailer. She has gained more than 200 pounds and has adjusted to her new home in St. Francis, said Drew Fitzpatrick, who runs the Minnesota Hooved Rescue Foundation in Zimmerman.

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419