To Save a Horse
Neglect Or Cruelty: How Horses Are Rescued

(First appeared in The Equiery December 2006)

by Laurel Scott

As Kathleen Schwartz, co-founder of Days End Farm attests, a lot goes into a humane investigation before a rescue can take place – and there are many variables from county to county. “Investigations are many times handled differently, depending on the individual county’s requirements and county laws,” she explained. “It also depends on if [the investigating body is] a humane society or has the ‘government’ animal control contract.

“ Some counties do not even handle complaints on horses, but just dogs and cats,” she continued. “Then there are the American Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Societies and the Animal Control organizations – and, depending on the county, some split up the investigations. In some cases, it just depends on who gets the calls.”

However, there is some common ground, according to Days End Farm board member Carolyn “Nicky” Ratliff, who is also executive director of the Humane Society and Animal Control for Carroll County. In her experience, most Maryland animal control agencies — or private humane organizations authorized to enforce the local animal control ordinances and the state anti-cruelty statutes — address alleged cruelty to horses in the following manner:

1. The organization receives the complaint and gathers as much information as possible.

2. An animal control officer/investigator is sent to the address to check on the equine’s welfare. If there is an issue, the owner will be told what needs to be done to rectify the situation; if not, the case is logged in as “unfounded.” Photographs are usually taken.

Possible issues to be addressed would include proper space, water, food, and veterinary care, including hoof care and shelter or protection from the weather. If there is no emergency and the owner is willing to cooperate, then he/she is to remedy the situation/get a vet in, build a loafing shed, make repairs, etc.

The investigator will check back in a reasonable amount of time to see whether the issues have been addressed. He/she may also contact the veterinarian and see what was recommended, following up to be sure that everything was carried out by the owner. If the issues have been properly addressed, the case will probably be closed; if not, then other actions will either be considered or taken.

3. If there is an outstanding issue, and the owner refuses to take the proper action, then the animal control officer/investigator will consult with his/her supervisor, perhaps a veterinarian and possibly the state’s attorney, to decide the next move. That could be a citation, a charge of cruelty to animals and/or, if warranted, the removal of the equine(s) from the property (only on the recommendation of a licensed Maryland veterinarian).

For the return of his/her animals, the owner would have to file/apply to the district court in the county where the animals were removed within 10 days. If this is done, a hearing would be scheduled and a judge would decide whether or not the animals would be returned. If this is not done, the animals would be considered abandoned and treated as such.

Charges of animal cruelty may or may not be issued at the discretion of the authorities.