PETA Involvement At Local Levels

A Pike County, Ohio, resident reported in mid-December 2003 what she thought was abuse in a herd of approximately 52 horses to Kristen Rohde, DVM. Rohde asked local law enforcement officials to have the horses examined by a veterinarian. By Jan. 9, the horses in question had been examined by three veterinarians (each of whom reported that some of the horses were in need of care), were monitored, then seized by local authorities. In the meantime, the international animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) had become involved in the local issue.

Pike County Sheriff Larry Travis said, "We received a complaint of starving horses. One horse was found dead in a stall, and there was one skinny horse. We're not sure why the horse died. The rest of the horses looked fair. We began to monitor the animals, checking to make sure they were fed and had water, and spoke with the owner. He was taking our advice and cooperating fully. We were following the guidelines of the Humane Society of the United States for cruelty investigation. The first objective of the agency is to relieve (care for) the animal."

Rohde filed a complaint against the owner on Dec. 20. At or about the same time, she took one of the horses into her own care with the owner's permission. According to Rohde and one other examining veterinarian who did not wish to be named, at highest risk were several miniature mares described as emaciated and too weak to produce milk for their foals.

The examining veterinarian who did not wish to be named said the absentee owner of the horses made attempts to comply with veterinary recommendations between examinations, but had left the horses in the care of neighborhood teenager who would have had great difficulty administering nursing care to the horses which required it.

In most animal abuse cases, humane organizations and local authorities rely heavily on veterinarians for evaluation of the animals. Strict documentation of cases is very important to ensure accurate reporting by the media and as court evidence if legal action is taken.

Travis said, "On Jan. 7, I had another veterinarian come out (Gail Counts, DVM). She reported that 25 of the horses were okay, 18 were moderate, and nine were poor but not in a state of starvation." Upon that veterinarian's recommendation, Travis made plans to seize the horses and hired two barn managers and had them sworn in as special deputies to care for the horses for at least 16 hours a day beginning Jan. 9, with nightwatchmen after midnight. This was more cost-effective than removing the horses from the premises, which would have cost $50 a day per horse.
Meanwhile, advocates for the horses notified PETA and asked for their help since they did not observe local officials seizing the horses or taking legal action against the owner. On Jan. 8, PETA made an "Action Alert" appeal to the 750,000 users of the PETA web site, As a means of pressuring local government and law enforcement officials, their phone, fax, and e-mail information was published, and PETA members were encouraged to contact them. (Other common tactics by national welfare organizations include cash rewards for information leading to the arrest of assailants who harm horses, and press releases that are commonly used as source material for news stories nationwide.)

The horses were seized by local officials on Jan. 9 as planned. Travis and and Ohio Humane Society officials agreed the reports of the horses' conditions were overblown and said that the 50-60 letters the office received from PETA web users beginning Jan. 8 had no bearing on his decision, which was made several days prior.

Some of the horses were well-fed, and others were going hungry, according to the officials. "The stronger, bigger ones were keeping the smaller (and more subordinate) ones away from the feed," said Travis. "I own horses. I love horses. I am not going to let them starve."

By Feb. 20, the animals had been nursed back to health and returned to the owner's custody. Travis said the humane society is educating the owner and caretakers on proper horse health care. "The vet checked them and said they were ready to be turned back over to the owners, with us monitoring them. I'm still checking on them to make sure things are going the way they should be. They're doing OK," said Travis. According to an article in the Chillicothe Gazette, one humane society official emphasized that she didn't want to discourage people from reporting a possible welfare situation that might require intervention.

This situation highlights the sensitivity and subjectivity of welfare cases and the ability of animal rights organizations to elevate cases to national attention. It also identifies the need to educate horse-owning citizens on a local level on proper equine health care, and the importance of having veterinarians involved in any suspected welfare cases.

by Fran Jurga and Stephanie L. Church

About the Author

Multiple Authors

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from Learn More