Welfare Involvement at Local Levels

A Pike County, Ohio, resident reported suspected abuse in a 52-horse herd in mid-December 2003 to a veterinarian, who asked local law enforcement officials to have the horses examined. By Jan. 9, the horses in question had been examined by three veterinarians , were monitored, then were seized by local authorities. In the meantime, 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 cooperating fully. We were following the guidelines of the Humane Society of the United States for cruelty investigation."

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.

The horses were seized by local officials on Jan. 9 as planned, but kept at their own farm. Travis had hired two barn managers--sworn in as special deputies--to care for the horses 16 hours a day, with night watchmen after midnight.

Meanwhile, advocates for the horses notified PETA and asked for help since they had not observed local officials taking the horses away 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, posting local officials' phone, fax, and e-mail information.

By Feb. 20, the animals had been nursed back to health and returned to the owner's custody, with local officials continuing to monitor the horses. Travis said the humane society is educating the owner and caretakers on proper horse health care.

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. (For more information, see article #5024.)--Fran Jurga and Stephanie L. Church

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