Florida Woman Charged for Failing to Report EIA-Positive Horses

A Florida woman faces a felony charge for failing to inform state agricultural authorities that a horse on her property tested positive for equine infectious anemia (EIA).

EIA is an infectious, potentially fatal viral disease transferred from horse-to-horse by biting insects such as horseflies and deer flies. Infected horses display acute or chronic symptoms including fever, anemia, edema, and general weakness. A Coggins test can detect EIA antibodies in horses' blood.

Authorities from the Florida Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement (OALE) allege that Regina Chesser of Fellsmere, Fla., failed to report that her 28-year-old Quarter Horse, Dolly, tested positive for the EIA virus via a Coggins test. The test was administered by a local veterinary clinic and processed by the state's approved laboratory, said OALE spokesman Major Bob Johnson.

Johnson said when authorities tried to contact Chesser about the test results, they learned she had registered at the clinic under an alias and had provided false contact information.

Investigators later located Chesser and found that another horse on her property also was infected with EIA, Johnson said.

Chesser was later charged with one count of second-degree felony failure to report a dangerous transmissible disease.

All U.S. states require owners moving their horses within and across state lines to carry proof of a negative EIA test within 12 months or less.

Chesser said she requested Dolly be tested for EIA because her granddaughter wanted to ride the horse at local shows and other events. She denies that she tried to deliberately conceal the horse’s EIA status.

"If I had known (Dolly) was EIA positive, it doesn't make sense that I would have had her tested," Chesser said.

Chesser said she plans to plead not guilty to the charge. No court date has been set. EIA-infected horses are generally either euthanized or kept in permanent quarantine, depending on the severity of the disease.

Michael Short, DVM, director of the Florida State Veterinarian's Equine Program said Chesser's two EIA-infected horses have been placed at F.R.I.E.N.D.S., an approved sanctuary for EIA-positive horses located in South Florida.

Florida agricultural authorities are conducting Coggins testing on horses residing in the immediate area of Chesser's ranch.

"So far we have done preliminary testing on more than 20 horses and all have been negative," Short said.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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