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April 4, 2008

If You Suspect Horse Abuse

Rescue and humane organization officials all stress the importance of reporting suspected neglect or abuse. Concerned citizens often provide a voice for animals in trouble—one they wouldn’t have otherwise.

The process for reporting abuse will depend on your local community. Some will have their own department of animal control; in others, your point of contact might be a sheriff’s office or other law enforcement agency. The mandated standard of care that an animal’s caretaker must meet also varies depending on where you live, so it helps to be familiar with the law in your particular state.

When you call to lodge your complaint, provide the exact address where the horses are located, along with a good description (color, markings, sex, approximate age, etc.). Be as specific as possible about what you observed as far as the food, water, and shelter provided, or any other abuse you witnessed.

Once a complaint is made, an animal control or other officer will follow up. The officer must make his or her determination based upon what is seen during the visit, which can be frustrating if the horses happen to have hay that day, even though they didn’t for the three preceding days.

In most cases, animal control will try to work with the owner and give him or her a chance to improve. Abuse is sometimes inadvertent, simply the result of a lack of knowledge—perhaps an uneducated owner didn’t notice a horse’s protruding ribs under a thick winter coat, or didn’t understand that horses need better quality hay than cows do. In such instances, the animal control officer will educate the owner about providing better care and check back after a period of time to monitor the progress made. Even if the owners are being knowingly neglectful, they’ll usually still be given a chance to rectify the situation—if, as with the Loudoun County horses, there’s no improvement (or deterioration) upon subsequent visits from animal control, further action will be taken.

Sometimes, though, it may seem that your local officials responsible for animal control just aren’t taking the situation seriously. Keep calling and checking up, but if you’re not making any headway, try contacting local rescues or humane societies as well. While these folks don’t usually have enforcement authority of their own, they know your local community and know how to push the necessary buttons to get results. In some cases, you might also want to contact local media outlets—newspapers, television stations and radio stations.

Above all, be persistent. Don’t get discouraged if the horses aren’t immediately confiscated—remember that there’s a process that must be followed. Stay involved and keep tabs on the progress (or lack thereof).