Florida Horse Seizure Prompts Animal Services Investigation

While a group of horses receives rehabilitative care, Manatee County, Fla., authorities have launched an investigation into county animal service, prompted by the animals' seizure.

Manatee County Sheriff's Department Public Information Officer David Bristow said sheriff's department personnel confiscated nine horses and about 300 other animals from an animal sanctuary owned and operated by Alan and Sheree Napier of Bradenton, Fla., on Feb. 5. On Feb. 10 another eight horses were taken from a property in Myakka City, Fla., belonging to the same owners, he said. All the horses were taken to Whispering Ranches Feed, where they are receiving care, Bristow said.

Beth Shuttleworth, operator of Whispering Ranches, said a stallion and two pregnant mares are among the 17 confiscated horses. Many of the horses were emaciated, Shuttleworth said, and all are receiving rehabilitative care.

Atty. Peter Lombardo, who represents the Napiers, said his clients have not been charged in connection with the animals' removal. However Lombardo said the couple often took in animals that were too sick or too old to be placed elsewhere.

While charges are pending, Nick Azzara, outreach information manager for Manatee County, said the county's Clerk of the Courts' independent internal audit division is launching an investigation of the county's animal services department. The audit was prompted by the Napier seizure, but had been previously planned by county government administrators, Azzara said

“The internal audit will review all of the policies and procedures of the animal services to see what we’re doing right and where we can make improvements,” he said.

Bristow said the investigation into the Napier sanctuaries is ongoing.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Williams, PhD, president of the Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society, in College Station, Texas, and author of "How to Start and Run a Rescue," said the Florida seizures should remind horse owners to do their homework before placing an animal with or lending financial support to any rescue.

She suggests owners:

  • Make a personal visit. “There is no substitute for visiting the rescue yourself,” Williams said. “Never rely on what other people say or (what's posted) on a pretty website."
  • Check for cleanliness. While most rescues will not be spotless, Williams said facilities should be clean. “The rescue should have a cleaning policy and a schedule for keeping stalls and other facilities clean,” she said.
  • View animals at the rescue. Animals residing at the sanctuary should be in a variety of conditions, Williams said. “Horses should be in varying stages of rehabilitation, so there should be healthy horses on the premises,” she said.
  • Question care. All animals at rescues should receive routine veterinary care, Williams said. Well-operated rescues have a care schedule that operators are willing to share. “But if operators can't tell you what kind of routine care animals are receiving, they are probably not doing it,” Williams said.
  • Ask questions. Ask questions of rescue operators, local veterinarians, and local sheriff's departments to gauge a rescue's reputation, Williams said. “For example, if none of the local veterinarians know this rescue, or if they refuse to make calls at the rescue, there may be a problem,” Williams said. “Likewise, you want to ask the sheriff's office if they have had any complaints about the rescue.”
    Williams cautioned that since day-to-say operations at most rescues are carried out by volunteers it might take time for staff members to answer specific questions about a rescue's operations. However, operators' outright refusal to answer specific questions is another matter, she said. “If they turn and walk away, there might be a problem,” Williams said.
  • Ask for financials. Williams said rescues must meet specific guidelines to achieve tax-exempt or 501(c)(3) status. But some claim this tax-exempt status without actually having the paperwork to prove it, she said. So she recommends owners ask to see pertinent financial statements and other corporate papers before lending support to or placing an animal with a rescue. “If they have this tax-exempt status, they are happy to show their financials to you,” Williams 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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