DOAG: INVESTIGATING HORSE-NEGLECT CASES A COMPLICATED, SENSITIVE TASK




    NEWS FROM THE CONNECTICUT DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE


                                                                 



CONTACT:                                                                                        July 16, 2014


Steve Jensen


860-713-2519-office


860-983-3556- cell


Steve.Jensen@ct.gov


 


                         This article appeared in the July 16, 2014 edition of the CT Weekly Agricultural Report


                     INVESTIGATING HORSE-NEGLECT CASES A COMPLICATED, SENSITIVE TASK

                        By Steve Jensen, Office of DoAg Cmsr. Steven K. Reviczky


 Photographs of emaciated horses seized from their owners in animal-neglect cases naturally provoke revulsion and scorn when they reach the public through news coverage.


But what many observers are likely left wondering is how an owner could allow a horse to reach such a deteriorated condition. Every case has its own unique circumstances, but there is often a common thread to the roots of neglect: economics.


“Horses are not cheap – they cost a lot to take care of,” said Dept. of Agriculture (DoAg) Animal Control Officer Nancy Jarvis. “And a lot of our cases happen because the owners don’t have the money to care for their animals the way they should.”


Jarvis was the lead investigator on a recent neglect case in Fairfield County that drew widespread media attention, including photographs of two extremely underweight horses that graphically showed their protruding ribs, hips and spinal bones.

There was some hay in the horses’ unkempt barn, but not nearly enough to sustain them.


DoAg officers have seen a spike in such cases in recent weeks, during which they have seized seven horses, two donkeys and a mule. Each case involved varying degrees of a lack of food and poor general care of the animals.

 

“It’s unusual to see this happening at this time of year,” said Ray Connors, DoAg’s Supervising Animal Control Officer.

“Hay is plentiful and there’s plenty of grass in the pastures. These cases are what we expect to see in mid-winter.”


A good-sized horse needs perhaps five or six pounds of grain and hay per day. And that is only the beginning of the expense of keeping such a large animal.


Vaccines can easily run to $500 a year. Their hooves need regular attention and they should be wormed several times a year. Because their teeth grow continuously until they reach an advanced age, they need to be “floated” or filed down at least once a year.


“If they’re not floated the teeth get pointed and sharp so the horse is in pain when it chews,” Jarvis said.

As in many investigations, the Fairfield County seizure only came after the owner had been previously advised to be more diligent about feeding the horses, and at times had been successful in bringing the animals up to a healthier weight.


“We normally don’t just go in and take the horses immediately,” Connors said. “We usually try to work with the owners to do what’s necessary to get the horse back to health.”

But when DoAg and the local police were shown photographs of the horses taken recently by a delivery person with a cell-phone, it was clear that intervention was needed.


The horses were found in a hard dirt paddock with little hay available and water buckets that were filled with algae and floating pieces of wood.

Their stalls in an adjacent barn were packed with several inches of manure. Connors described them as being “basically skeletons with skin.”


Said Jarvis: “Those horses were in imminent danger. I just wish I could have gotten access to them sooner.”

But achieving that access can be more complicated than it may seem. Even if a complaint of suspected neglect has been filed, an owner can refuse to allow an animal-control officer or a police officer to inspect their property without a court-ordered search warrant.


Gathering enough evidence for a search-and-seizure warrant, however, is difficult without a first-hand visit.

“We can’t just open a barn door and walk in like some people may think,” said Connors.


Once a horse is seized, it is taken to DoAg’s Large Animal Res-cue and Rehabilitation Facility in Niantic, where they are examined by a veterinarian. The results of that exam often determine whether charges of animal neglect or cruelty are filed against the owner.


The relevant section of state criminal statutes allows charges to be brought against an owner who “...fails to supply any such animal with wholesome air, food and water.”

The veterinarian’s exam is crucial to determine if the horse has truly been neglected, or if it is underweight because of other factors such as a disease that is causing a lack of nutrient absorption.


For a first offense, the maximum penalty upon conviction is one year in prison and/or a $1,000 fine. Subsequent offenses are considered a felony that carries up to five years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine.

Owners who have their animals seized may also appeal in Superior Court to get them back, and it is not uncommon for them to do so. Horses that are put in the permanent custody of DoAg may be adopted through its Second Chance program or sold at UConn’s annual spring horse auction.


The two horses recently seized in Fairfield County, named Chinook and Cheyenne, are still in fragile health as their daily feed is slowly increased at DoAg’s Niantic facility. They are each being given slightly less than a pound of grain per day, along with a small amount of hay.

“If you feed them too much too soon you can kill them,” Jarvis said. “They have a long way to go, but so far so good.”


Jarvis is hoping they achieve the turnaround that a former resident of the Niantic facility, Blackie, did after being seized in 2011 from a farm in Easton. DoAg took five of the more than 100 horses living at the farm.


Part of the evidence in the case was a video shot by a private citizen visiting the farm that showed an emaciated Blackie limping and searching for food in his paddock. He had such difficulty breathing that his nostrils had become grotesquely enlarged.

The horse’s owner was charged with animal cruelty and was eventually placed in a court program for first-time offenders.


DoAg Commissioner Steven K. Reviczky said the case is an example of how citizens are an invaluable tool in making the agency aware of cases of suspected abuse.

“The public is unquestionably our best eyes and ears in these situations,” Reviczky said. “Anyone who suspects an animal is being mistreated should never hesitate to call us.”


Blackie not only fully recovered in Niantic but was later adopted by a woman in New Jersey, where Jarvis said he is thriving.


 “I wish every one of these cases could turn out like that,” Jarvis said. “She’s given that horse absolutely everything he needs.”

 


                Cases of suspected animal neglect can be reported to the Dept. of Agriculture’s 

                                             Animal Control Division at 860-713-2506