Saturday, July 25, 2009

Animal Control Officers gone wild!

Most of the time, when someone says the animal control officers are picking on them, I roll my eyes. Usually, it seems that the folks screaming that they are being persecuted just happen to have a collection of ribby horses with long feet standing in mud and more excuses than you can imagine about why they aren't abusers and the rules don't apply to them. (We have heard them all - I am poor, I am sick, the dead horse was sick, my husband left me, that horse looks better in the summer, I got a bad load of hay, blah blah. Whatever. Trust me, nobody gets prosecuted if they call AC and say, I can't afford to feed my horses, what would you like me to do with them? But nobody ever admits to that until they get busted with two dead horses behind the barn and a foal that looks like a malnourished goat...)

However, ACO's are human and just like politicians, some of them will use their power for unethical gain or to get back at someone they have a personal vendetta against.

Extortion Charged in Taking of Horses

"In April, Andy Ray Lane, 53, responded to an "anonymous" report of abuse of two horses at a residence just outside Wimer.

The horses appeared to be well-fed and watered, but were in enclosures deemed too small by Lane.

During numerous visits to the property over the next few weeks, Lane advised the resident, who was not named by Jackson County sheriff's officials, and warned the man he could face stiff fines if the situation was not corrected.

The resident reportedly tried to rectifly the situation, but could not do enough to satisfy Lane's demands.

Eventually, the owner of the horses sought to sell the animals, but was not able to do so.

Lane then returned to the house with a trailer to take the horses. He told the resident he needed to take some fence panels from the property to help corral the animals.

Lane told the resident he had found the horses a safe home where they would be cared for. The fence panels were never returned to the owners."

Well no kidding. The fence panels probably were worth more than the horses!

I haven't seen details about the enclosures the horses were in, but a vast many horses in the world live in an enclosure known as a "stall" which is typically 12 x 12. As long as they are taken out daily or almost daily for some exercise, this is not cruelty. It may not be the ideal way for a horse to live but you can't start confiscating horses in Oregon for something every single boarder at the L.A. Equestrian Center is guilty of.

So there are two issues here I'd like to hear your comments on. The first is, is animal control in your area a one-man show, and if the one man (or woman) is unethical or lazy, is there nowhere else to go for help? In this area, we have a whole department and more than one officer goes out to inspect a situation before any seizures take place, so it would be very hard for anyone's personal vendetta to get too far. But I know that's not true everywhere, so if you have a horror story, feel free to share it!

The other issue is how inconsistent animal control's expectations for care are in different areas. Animal control is typically under the control of the individual county, so the standard of what will get your horses seized is all over the place. The ACO is usually seen as the expert by the usually non-horsey Sheriff but some are much more expert than others!

What will get a horse seized in your area? I've seen it all over the place here. I mean, dead, skinny horses should pretty much always result in a seizure but I've seen healthy, good weight horses seized due to muddy conditions around here and I have to wonder a little about that. I'm not privy to the inner workings of those cases, so I don't know how much of a chance the owners were given to resolve the problems before a seizure took place. I also sometimes question if people understand how serious the trouble is in time to take action - ACO's, like police, tend to be very friendly in order to get the person being investigated to spew out evidence. To me, fairness dictates that a person being investigated get clear instructions about how to correct the violations, and accurate information about the consequences for failure to do so. I'm not sure that happens consistently.

I think most of us agree that if you can get an owner to correct - and let's face it, many times violations take place out of ignorance (twenty years ago, I would have thought nothing of horses standing in mud - my reaction would have been, duh, it's April, everything is standing in mud including me) - it is better to fix the situation and keep horses in their existing homes right now. How is that working in your area?

Again, just shoot me the comments at and I'll be happy to put up a bunch of them later!

I know I missed a Friday Featured Rescue but I want to re-feature one. Click here to see Bonnie Weather - she's the first horse shown. She's still looking for a home in the Seattle area and is a 17 hand (really! I met her!) super sweet and snuggly, too slow to race three year old Thoroughbred filly. Bonnie really needs to go to a slower paced home. I hear she is so quiet that you could have her starting to show still this season. E-mail if you're interested!

All right, it's a beautiful day so it's time to go out and enjoy it with the horses. Hope you are all doing well and good luck if you're showing this weekend!


Anon - I worked as on and off as college breaks permitted as an ACO for my small hometown. We had one case involving horses, she claimed she was rescuing them. She lived way back in the woods, her dog was loose which warranted us being there. First thing we see in the drive was a dead rooster which she hadn't gotten around to burying yet. She had over 30 horses tied to one railing, as she had no turnout and 4 stalls. The state couldn't bother itself to step in. Our lovely court system gave her all her horses back.

My second boss, was former employee turned the entire position into all about herself. She would have her friends over and ignore the telephone. Most of the dogs had a 2 week limit, more, if there was room. With the new expansions the town put it, we had plenty of room but only if it was a pit bull. She claimed they were a misunderstood breed and would hoard them, even giving tickets to people who walk them with muzzles on.

Most of the acos ive worked with, enjoy giving tickets and tellling people off. They sit around eating donuts, complain about being overweight, hire a kennel worker to do the grunt work, and drive around in the van for hours doing nothing but wasting gas.

The most common thing ive seen, in our town and others, including the humane society, is people stealing donations for their own pets. A large poster said we needed towels, however none of the animals were ever given towels.

AME - It's an incomplete picture; I've never heard of an AC person taking fencing, let alone well-fed horses. It's hard enough to get them to take starving, neglected, or abused ones before they suffer permanent damage or death. If the primary concern was inadequate fencing, why was that fencing deemed so good the AC officer wanted to "borrow" it so the new place would have adequate fencing? Sounds really fishy. I would be interested to learn the facts, once they come out.

I've never heard of a muddy pen being a sign of abuse. In a paddock or pasture, it seems the horses will happily stand in the area that is muddy and ignore the areas that are dry and firm. Perhaps it's a spa therapy for their tootsies. Of course we're talking about the good clean mud that accumulates around gates and feeders during the wet season.

Pipe corrals often end up with some muddy areas when it's raining as well, though with adequate planning and drainage most of the pen should not be muddy. Though, in times of flood, all sorts of things can happen. I remember one wet winter joking about a horse having 3 swimming pools in his paddock. OK, I wasn't thrilled, but the pen was kept clean, and he did have enough dry area that he wasn't standing in water unless he wanted to.

A stall floor that is covered with inches or feet of feces and urine mixed with dirty bedding is definitely an unhealthy, abusive situation. But usually this is accompanied with other health issues that in themselves would constitute abusive neglect.

So nobody should be taking possession of a horse based solely on the presence of mud.

Anon - I don't know about horses, but I grew up in a rural area of Arizona. Animal control didn't do much. At one point a pit bull came up to our house foaming at the mouth and snapping at the air. My mom called animal control and they told her that they'd only come out if she tied him up or put him in a cage. My mother ended up shooting the dog because she didn't want it to bite or kill any of the animals on our property, and had to dispose of the body on her own. Another incident occurred when a pack of about 20 dogs came on our property several nights in a row. They killed our goat, our chickens, were running our horses into a lather and were trying to take the horses down. We called animal control since we knew where most of the dogs had come from. AC told us to shoot the dogs if they were messing with our livestock and it was none of their business. We ended up having to shoot the dogs when they attacked our horses, one of which was a 30 year old quarter/morgan mix that never seemed to recover from the stress, and had wounds on his legs. We killed 3 of them and the owners were outraged. They called animal control and finally the officers came out, ended up taking all but 4 of their animals. After that the owners tried to poison our dogs, and once again it wasn't important enough. It was wild how unconcerned they were about anyone outside of the actual city limits.

Anon - It's ironic that you posted this when you did. We had a local story about the often overlooked equine-neighbor, the bovine. In this situation, some idiot man bought a cow, tied it to a tree (in his neighboorhood) and he and his brother proceeded to beat it in the head until it fell. And then they skinned it alive.

And our local Animal Control, Georgia and US Ag Departments, and Sheriff's office determined him not guilty of animal cruelty or any other crime. You know, because he was planning on a barbecue. Welcome to Georgia!

WVfarmgirl - Here in WV most counties do not even have an ACO. In the county next to mine there is a specific deputy that deals with abuse/neglect cases. If the horse is either a mare or stallion and a "pretty color" he'll seize the animal for his own BYB program. If the horse is a gelding or too old/sick to breed, he'll leave the animal with the owners and just fine them (sometimes). The ACO in my county (there's only the one and she also runs the dog shelter) is a little better, but seized a palomino stud colt two years ago and attempted to get the papers from the breeder so she could breed him when he was old enough. When the breeder wouldn't give up the papers, she got him gelded and sent him to me to rehome.

In WV a horse has to be pretty much on their death bed from starvation before they can be seized. There's a breeder down the road from me and all of her horses are extremely thin and have been getting worse throughout the summer. Unfortunately, she's in the county with Deputy Dipshit and he's refusing to even go out and see her. There are a lot of good horse owners out here, but we're also a little too convenient to Sugarcreek auction for those less than ideal owners.

Then there's Celeita Kramer and she's in a different county, but still one without an ACO or even a police officer designated for animal abuse or neglect. This state is in dire need of ACOs!

Anon - I am still upset about the conduct of an animal control officer I had to deal with in May. He had known about a starving horse and allowed him to languish in a field of fox tails for a month. This horse was a skeleton with skin. When I finally convinced him this horse had no food, a woman verified she had not seen the owner in weeks, he said the horse could find pieces of grass to eat. When I said are you kidding me, he said it had rained and grass would grow. What makes me sick is that if Nor Cal Equine had not stepped up this officer would have allowed the horse to starve to death. I felt the horse only had a couple of days, if that. What do you do when only one officer handles a situation? Where else could I have gone? He was dead set on leaving the horse there. What else could I have done? Call 911? It was frustrating to say the least. You don't need to publish this, I am venting. It still makes me angry. If people are going to have a job they should know how to do it.

I don't understand how an animal control officer could leave a horse so close to death in that horrid place. Makes me sick.

Katphoti - Well, I have been involved in a situation here where we had a rescue situation of sorts. My farrier, who was a very close friend to us, passed away quite suddenly, and he had a breeding barn full of Arabs. These are decent Arabs, but of course he and his wife believed they are the cream of the crop, as do all people who own horses. Now, they had been trying to sell horses and give young horses away before he died, but due to his sudden death and him being the sole money maker, things had to be done fast. Right after he died, the family started giving away horses and selling them for next to nothing. Now, I started to hear rumors being spread about the horses being in poor condition, sickly, too thin, etc. There were lots of people spreading this information around through emails and such. A lot of it was second hand--I heard this, so and so said that. I defended my farrier because I did not believe he would let this happen to his animals, and because I don't believe that people who haven't seen the situation for themselves have any right to spread that kind of information. Because of these rumors, the family was receiving threatening calls, the local USDA and AC came out, and things were very upsetting for them.

I did go out to the farm and unfortunately learned that lots of the information I had heard was true. I also spent a long time talking with the president of one of the local horse rescues out here who took in a few of the horses. I learned that these horses were breeding horses only. There was no training, not even basic halter training. The animals are there to breed, and that is it. I learned very quickly that these horses have very long feet, they have eye problems due to excessive flies, were not getting regular vaccs, and hadn't ever been groomed. The horses that got good feed were the breeding and nursing mares and stallions--the young colts or mares that weren't being bred got cow hay. They were all getting feed through dewormer, but honestly they needed more than that. It was very much a situation of the cobbler's children not getting shoes--my farrier and his wife have disabilities, and it came down to they had too many horses and not enough time. Plus the economy had hit them hard, just like all of us. They had actually pared down their herd several years ago, and had decided that they saw a demand in the Arab market that they could fill so they started breeding again right before the economy died. These are good people and their herd just got out of hand.

However, no horses were seized by the USDA and the AC because they were within the Arizona state laws for livestock care. The horses must have water and feed available. There is no law against not having shade in the summer heat, having stalls built up with manure, old hay and dirt as the base, the size of the stall, not having feet trimmed, teeth done, regular vet care, etc.

Since this time, we have been making arrangements to do major cleanup on their property. Another local farrier who is a friend of mine and my family and I went out there and got horse's hooves trimmed and cleaned up some trash on the property. Our plan is to help them in the long run--do cleanup here and there, help advertise horses, etc.

Overall, I have learned through this experience two things.

1. We have no choice but to work within the law when it comes to things like this. If we don't like the situation, then we need to petition for the laws to change, not blame the family for it. When it comes to the family themselves, we need to show them the areas where they can give better care, and go out and help them make these changes. I find that more people will change when you are kind, friendly, present the facts, and are overall understanding than if you scream in their face and accuse them.

2. One person's idea of good care is not the same as another's. Heck, when my husband and I bought our first horses, we boarded at a place where he used t-posts, barbed wire and horse fencing, and bailing twine to keep the stalls together. He never cleaned the manure, and the horses had very little shade, never had clean water other than dumping the 55 gallon barrels once a month, etc. The fly population was insane. But he was never not within the state laws. We didn't realize what was going on, and we have since learned better. But my level of care isn't even perceived as high as other people I know--I know people who groom their horses top to bottom daily rather than my measley once a week. Due to back problems, I can't shovel shit, so my husband does it, but he won't do it more than once a week, so I have lots of other methods of fly control. Lots of people I know clean stalls daily. But does that me less of an owner? I hope not.

So, to answer your questions, no, in AZ the AC is not a one-man show, and there are lots of places we can go for help. Mostly, I find that the best way to get help in AZ is to go to the local rescue groups. If you are willing to help them remedy the situation, then they are more than happy to help you out. Just calling and complaining doesn't cut it.

In my experience, I don't think that there are inconsistencies in AZ with how AC performs their duties, but I believe they are EXTREMELY limited because of the laws allowing too much here. I've even had AC and rescue groups tell me that they wish they could do more, but the law won't let them.

What will get horses seized is no water or no feed, period. I also know that if a vet "just happens" to see horses in an area that obviously having problems, the AC will come out and remedy the situation. A vet's conformation can get a horse seized. Mostly, though, seizures are based on quietly coercing the owners to sign the horse over to a rescue group. Unfortunately, though, that's about it.

Anon - for years I had deep distrust of our local AC officers after an incident when I was a teenager. My mare was in a small area (about 1/4 of an acre) on hay rations as she was getting dangerously fat. Someone of course called AC and reported she was starving. This guy looked at 14 year old me and read me the riot act about how I should keep horses. When I pointed out she was fat and needed a diet he advised me I did too so perhaps they should lock me up as well! Given he couldn't actually fault her condition he gave me a written warning about the shoe she was missing on a hind foot (farrier was booked, she wasn't lame, she was just minus a shoe).

These days I would think he wouldn't have a job after speaking to a minor without a parent or guardian present.

Anon - I have to say that in my area ACO is basically non-exsistant. We live in rural IA, and there just isn't what most people know as Animal's a quick story....true story.....about my daughter and a stray dog.

Daughter and Boyfriend live in a small town about 2 miles from me. They have a German Wirehair female they use for hunting, she wasn't young and in heat but kenneled when out of the house. Large black Lab starts hanging around, no collar, no tags. They try to get a hold of him a couple times, he runs. Finally one day my daughter is there alone and this dog will NOT leave and she can't catch him and he is trying to attack her dog as she is trying to put it in the kennel. She calls the local police for animal control. She is told they do not have an animal control officer, she has to call the county sheriff. Calls the sheriff, nope they don't take care of that either, she needs to call the DNR, you know the wildlife guys that check and make sure hunters have licenses and tags, etc. She calls them, they have no idea what she talking about and says she needs to call the police. So, she calls the police and they say, well, really you aren't in our jurisdiction(her small town doesn't actually have a police force, this was the next small town over) so we can't come get it. She says, well what am I supposed to do, and the officer says, if you can catch it and bring it to us, we'll take it. In desperation she goes out, opens the back of her Yukon where their dog's kennel is that they use when they go places, and calls to the dog to "load up". To her amazement, the dog loads up. She now drives 6 miles into the next town's police dept. She goes in and explains that she has caught the dog she had called about would an officer come get it. NOPE, no officer available right now could she come back in a couple of hours. At this point she loses it, and tells the gal at the desk if someone doesn't come get the dog she is going to let it out in their lobby and leave because she has already spent all morning with this mess and she has to go to work in a couple of hours. The gal behind the desk calls an officer in and he looks at my daughter and says, just follow me to the "shelter" because he doesn't want the dog in his car! When they get there(the shelter is a garden shed on the edge of town with 2 big dog crates and 3 smaller ones for cats) she opens the back of the truck and the officer asks her if she has a leash! No - doesn't have a leash but she has some baling twine left from the last horse show, so the officer creates one and leads the dog into the kennel. As he turns to leave, daughter asks him if he is going to give any of the animals any water. He looks surprised and says, oh, well I guess I could. She helps him, and when she gets back to her car he hands her a mug with the police dept. logo on it and says, thanks. She said it took all of the control she had not to wing it at his head at that point........

So, to answer the question what does it take in your area to get a horse seized....I think you have to be able to deliver it....which they do to the local sale barn and sell for $10.....

Anon - That AC officer looks like a real winner with his *deer in headlights* mug shot.

I do have an AC horror story, but it was about a rabbit not a horse. I was sitting out in my garden one day, enjoying the sun and watching a cute baby bunny nurse out of its mother. Then it was jumping around kicking its back feet out in delight. So cute. Then some local neighborhood boys came over and decided it would be funny to STEP ON THE BUNNY. I was so pissed I said "Dont you EVER come back here again!" and they said "Sue me!" in a smart ass tone. So I called the cops. In the mean time I went over and picked up the bunny in a clean towel. It was having terrible trouble breathing and it was coughing up blood. The police talked to the boys a little bit, and then let them walk home! I would have sent them to the detention center. The police also called animal control out. In the mean time I was trying to keep the poor bunny breathing. It took THREE hours for animal control to come out. When they go here they picked the bunny up by the ears (OMG) and said "Shes too far gone to save. But we can dispose of her." ( *jaw to the floor* UH you wonder why she is so far gone?! She has been suffering for THREE HOURS!) I said "Well I can take care of her instead if you want." But they said "No we cant do that ma'm its procedure." I cried, it was awful.

Anon - A friend has the AC people stop and said her horses had no shade in her pasture. My friend pointed to a large barn, which the horses could run in and out of if they wanted to be in the shade. That wasn't good enough. The AC officer wanted her to build a run-in for shade in the pasture. The officer just didn't get that the huge big red barn to which the pasture was attached WAS the run-in shed. In my area, either the AC waits too long until horses actually die, or make silly and unreasonable demands to people who are taking good care of their horses.

Anon - When I was younger my family had a over-size German Shepperd dog kennel. We were legit, Registered AKC show dogs that went for well over $1,000. One day the Animal Control was called on us because of a disgruntled customer who signed a contract that said "No money back". Animal Control said we had a puppy mill and she was personally going to take all our dogs in and put them down! My father threw her off the PRIVATE property and told her to come back with a warrant. She didn't come back with a warrant, but she did come back with a van.

It was ugly, but it turned out that they had just passed a law that raised the price of registering your dogs with the county from $2 to $10 a peice. Animal Control got an $8 kickback. She was going around harassing everyone.

We got it sorted out by buying a kennel licence and she never bothered us again, but for a child it was scary!

FlechaRojo -
I used to work at the local Humane Society and this waste of space would come by every once in a while mainly to act like a complete a-hole. It's been several years since I was employed, but while I'm happy somebody came forward to give what Andy deserves, I'm frustrated that it has taken so long. Extortion? Yeah those aren't little Yorkie charges, are they, Andy? Time to play with the Pitbulls!

Anon - We have the opposite problem....or do we? Here in our county in WV, the "humane officer" let 5 out of 10 horses DIE in a field at one farm and wouldn't do anything about it. BUT, when there was a (fugly) unregistered pinto colt in a field with 1 starving filly and 1 dead filly, he did take that one. He kept the fugly pinto a stallion and bought brood mares and is currently breeding him. He told me that colt looked just like a horse he used to have when he was a kid! He bragged to me that he got $600 out of one of the babies.

There are many more horses in this county who are starving and he won't do anything about them.

I just don't understand.

TBDancer - We have various jurisdictions for Animal Control--there are three nearby towns with their own AC officers and then there is the County, which is what I have dealt with.

From what I've heard (and from my own experience with the County), I would say AC's effectiveness is mostly negative. You get the bully with the badge and the citation book, the know-it-alls who think anyone with animals is an idiot, and the occasional conscientious ACO that hasn't yet been threatened with a gun because he/she is checking on a complaint about someone with a pack of unlicensed dogs.

The only AC person I know who "has a clue" is my shoer's wife and she works at the pound.

Most of the ACOs I've heard about or dealt with are arrogant bordering on stupid--not to put too fine a point on it. Horror stories abound about one woman who is still working. She ticketed everyone in her jurisdictioin who did not have shelters for their horses on turn out.

People who were her friends were given 30-60 days to get shelters up, people she didn't like were given seven days with threats of confiscating the horses, etc.

Her rationale or justification for ticketing these folks was that she had written the rule about all turned-out horses had to have shelters of a certain dimension, it had been passed into law and had taken effect January 1 but no one knew about it. What made the rule ridiculous is that even with all the shelters in the world, some horses will just go stand in the the elements.

Go figure.

I've heard about experiences others have had, calling AC about horses that are starving in a field, no visible food or water--and either no one responds or they drive by, look, and then drive away. And then one day the field is empty.

My personal experience with the county AC is that they send out some overweight man who does not want the facts from ME (and I'm the one who saw what happened). He wants to get the facts from my neighbor who made the phone call (because she had the phone) but who did not see what happened.

In short, when it comes to caring about someone else's animals, it is probably better to sneak the horses food and water yourself or, at the risk of being shot or stabbed, offer to help. Sometimes ignorance IS the reason, but people don't like being told they are stupid. (I can tell you that fat ACOs don't like being told they got that way because they don't like to work hard, either).

A gal I know who lives near a major highway offered to take in a couple of starving horses rescued by her friend--who did not have room for them all at her place. People driving by saw the skinny horses, called county AC who came out daily to the point that the gal sent the horses to her friend's place and took in two others that were not as skinny.

As to what gets a horse confiscated around here, I'm not sure. One town's AC has held a couple of auctions for horses either turned in or confiscated (not sure which). Notices of sealed bids by such-and-such a date are printed in the daily paper.

The good thing about this economy and the weather (at least in California) is that hay prices are dropping dramatically so if someone runs a rescue or has taken on horses for friends (or sees or knows of horses owned by someone who needs help) it's easier to spring for bales of hay to donate to them.

There are still a lot that slip through the cracks though.

Anon - I've heard of bogus BS about the Tri State ACO, I think the worst would have to be horses showing all their ribs and hooves curled up were not seized after an ACO saw them. That story is crap and it sounds like the ACO might've taken the horses to auction for money or maybe he but them in his fugly muddy acre pasture (that would so be better than a stall all day!) so his kids can sit on the horses and kick them to death. AC is pathetic.