Georgia Neglect Case: Defense Team Questions Seizure
- Feb 20, 2007
The debate over seizure of 99 horses from a Pike County, Ga., farm rages on. While a veterinarian and the Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture felt the seizure was the right thing to do, a family friend and the lawyer for the two people now charged with 201 counts of animal cruelty apiece are questioning the necessity of the Department of Agriculture's action in seizing the horses earlier this month.
Joy Walker, friend and neighbor of the accused Roger Prater and Bobbie Allison, and a horse owner for 35 years, said she was on the farm when the Department intervened, and stated she strongly disapproved of the Department's actions.
Condition of the Horses
Defendant Roger Prater confirmed via his lawyer that this photograph, taken by Joy Walker, shows some of the horses in his care on the day the animals were impounded. Department officials declined to provide their photographs.
According to Walker, Prater received a group of 15 to 20 horses an acquaintance had purchased from a sale barn in November. These horses came to Prater's 600-acre farm in extremely poor condition.
"(The acquaintance) went and got some horses that should not have been in the sale barn--they looked like they were starving to death," Walker said. "Evidently, he got them cheap and was going to make some money feeding them up and selling them."
Of the nearly 100 horses on the property, Walker said only the group brought to the farm in November were in poor condition.
"He was unable to fix them up, and that's the simple fact of what happened," Walker said. "If you get a horse that's half starved to death in November and try to fatten him up, you're not going to do it."
"Out of the 90 horses, I'd say a third of them were fat, a third were 100 pounds underweight, and then this group that were brought from the sale barn are downright pitiful," Walker stated.
"I've raised horses all my life," Walker said. "Yes, some of the horses were 100 pounds underweight. Some were in really bad shape, but there were extenuating circumstances for the ones that were in really bad shape. And the others are fatter than my Arabs, and my Arabs are too fat--you couldn't see a rib if you rubbed hard."
Virgil Brown, attorney for Prater and Allison, agreed that only a small group of horses were in poor condition. "We've got pictures of every horse and all of them, except the ones that are sick, are in good shape--you can look at the pictures and tell that," Brown said.
Mark Korb, DVM, who treated the horses for more than a week after first being called out to see a colic case Jan. 25, said some horses had low body condition scores.
"A lot of the media has painted as if there were over 100 horses starving, but I don't believe that's an accurate assessment," Korb said. "The ones that were in poor shape did appear to be severely malnourished, but that was not the majority of the horses.
"There were greater than 15 horses in body condition scores of less than 1, but there were also a large number of horses that were in good condition," Korb stated.
According to Commissioner of Agriculture Tommy Irvin the horses were starving to death. On Feb. 1, the day before the horses were impounded, Irvin said many of the horses were in critical condition.
"Some of these horses are in such bad condition that they're expiring as we talk," Irvin said Feb. 1. "Some get down and have to be euthanatized, some died before we were on the scene."
Korb said he was there for nearly a week and saw two downed horses on the farm on Tuesday (Jan. 30). One died suddenly, and another was euthanatized. He was on the farm through Friday and did not see any other dying or downed animals.
Irvin would not comment on the number of animals found down or dead on the property.
Irvin said yesterday (Feb. 19) that some of the horses would be in better condition than others, explaining, "We know there were different levels (of body conditions among the horses), because we don't know the dates that each of these animals showed up on this farm where they didn't feed them. The ones that might have only been there for several days are not going to look as bad as the ones that have been there for two or three months."
Some horses were sick with a respiratory ailment. An article from The Associated Press stated these horses had strangles, an upper respiratory disease in horses caused by Streptococcus equi bacteria. Strangles has a low mortality rate, but it can spread rapidly among horses.
Korb said they had not diagnosed Strep. equi.
"We tested some of the clinically ill horses and we did not come up with Strep. equi," Korb said. "The lab did a few additional tests at the state's request and they were still negative for Strep. equi."
According to Korb there is a tentative diagnosis for the problem, but it has not yet been confirmed by laboratory testing.
Korb stated that he and some state officials attempted to remove all of the sick horses from the herd, but were unable to catch all of them.
"We were only able to treat the horses we could pull out," Korb said. "There were a number of horses that were ill that we were never able to get our hands on."
According to Walker, once Department officials came on to the farm she and Prater went to work to correct any perceived problems in the horses' management, but mixed messages from officials led to confusion and reports of noncompliance. Walker said four different officials were giving conflicting instructions.
"We're running like crazy trying to do everything they say, getting directions from four different places, and they're all different," Walker stated. "So the Department comes out saying he's not doing what he's supposed to be doing."
Brown said a veterinarian advised Prater he should give the horses corn along with hay. When he followed this instruction, Department officials told him it would hurt the horses.
"He hired a vet, full time, and the vet told him that in addition to the hay he was giving he ought to put some corn out," Brown said. "So he puts some corn on the ground, and after a couple days the agriculture department said 'don't give them corn, it's hurting them, you have to do this and that.' And he's cooperating."
Brown and Walker stated that Prater had hay available for the horses. Walker said she was there with Prater, throwing bales out to the horses until they would not eat any more. She also stated that she and Prater were instructed to provide shelter for the horses when it began to rain, which they did by affixing tarpaulins to buildings to form roofs.
"The sick ones did need shelter, so we put up tarps, and made tents out of them for (the horses) to get under--and of course the horses weren't under it, they were out in the field. They didn't want to stay under there," Walker said. "Then I read in the paper that (Prater) refused to do anything for these animals, that he refused to provide feed and shelter.
"They took pictures of the horses that were laying down--the supposedly dead horses--and made a big deal out of that, and they took pictures of the skinniest horses they could find and absolutely blew it out of proportion," Walker said.
Irvin stated that Prater did not comply with requests that he provide feed for the animals.
"We tried our best to negotiate a way to keep from impounding them, to get him to feed them, and that did not work," Irvin said. "He even bought some hay, but he didn't deliver that in the pasture. What good does the hay do if it's stashed in a big semi trailer? Our staff physically fed them for two days."
The Department of Agriculture impounded the animals on the Prater residence Feb. 2 and 3. They removed 99 horses, numerous dogs and goats, some fowl, and rabbits. The 50 cattle were sold.
"We have given the owners of these animals ample instructions and time to rectify the problems found on their property," Irvin stated Feb. 1. "I am exercising my authority under the Humane Care for Equines Act, the Georgia Animal Protection Act, and Emergency Support Function 11 of the Georgia Emergency Operation Plan, and am impounding all the horses and dogs from the property."
Irvin stated yesterday, "I sent two veterinarians along with some of my other staff to give me a professional evaluation of the situation, and I know during all this time I was negotiating, trying to get them to agree to feed their animals, to no avail. And I was convinced the longer I waited, the more horses would die from starvation. So I took the only other action any reasonable person could take--to impound them to keep them from starving them."
The horses were taken to a private facility, as the Department's two equine impound facilities could not take all of them, and they could not be separated due to the respiratory ailment.
According to Walker, the sick and healthy horses were segregated at the farm, but were put into trailers together when they were removed from the property.
"They thought the horses had strangles," Walker stated. "They were quarantined on the place, but the tests had not come back. So then they take all the horses, put them all together and mash them into trailers."
Prater and Allison were each charged with 201 counts of animal cruelty. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of $1,000 fine plus one year in jail.
The horses have been at the impound facility since Feb. 3.
Irvin revealed yesterday that the University of Georgia did a necropsy on a horse that died. According to the University's report, Irvin said, the horse died of parasites and malnutrition.
Since the horses have been impounded and charges filed against Prater and Allison, diverse opinions about the case have surfaced.
"Considering the magnitude and the numbers, this is one of the worst situations we've ever dealt with," Irvin said Feb 1. "Why he let them get in this shape, we have no explanation."
According to Walker, the case comes down to a small group of malnourished horses and the whole situation was blown out of proportion.
"It's the worst abuse of governmental power I've ever seen in my entire life," Walker stated. "It's not supposed to happen here in America, but it did.
"Now, because of this 15 or 20 horses, they have charged each person with 201 counts of animal cruelty," Walker said. "To drive around and look at other people's animals... the majority of Roger's horses were no worse than what's standing around everywhere."
Korb stated the impoundment of the horses was probably necessary.
"There was such a large number of horses that I feel that it was going to be hard for Roger, alone, to do what needed to be done for the horses," Korb stated. "Once the state acquired the horses, they had the manpower to take care of all the horses the way they needed to be taken care of."
About the Author
Erin Ryder is a former news editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care. She owns a portly gray gelding named Duncan and dabbles in several equestrian disciplines, with an emphasis on dressage.
POLL: Farm and Liability Insurance