The Kentucky Equine Networking Association (KENA) welcomed a diverse range of attendees to their November meeting, which was one of the largest of 2018. Focused on understanding the process of prosecuting equine neglect and abuse cases in Kentucky, as well as the roadblocks organizations assisting with these cases may encounter, the room was full of horse owners, riders and enthusiasts.
Speakers included Lt. Jai Hamilton, a certified Humane Investigator with Lexington-Fayette Animal Care and Control; Jacque Mayer, Assistant County Attorney for the Fayette County Attorney's Office; and Karen Gustin, Executive Director of the Kentucky Equine Humane Center in Nicholasville, Ky.
Before delving into her role in equine neglect cases, Jai offered the audience some statistics so they might understand better how her department operates. She explained that in Lexington, there are 11 animal control officers for a city with 321,000 residents, and about 1,600 welfare cases reported each year. Jai pointed out that most animal cruelty complaints her department receives arise from unintentional neglect. Because of this, her department has two goals: to educate clients and to raise the animal's standard of care.
She noted some challenges within her department: not all Animal Control Officers have equine experience; there are limited funds for the training of officers; and there is high employee turnover because of compassion fatigue. An additional challenge Jai mentioned, and all other panelists reiterated, is that the Kentucky lacks laws to punish animal abuse and neglect. Kentucky currently ranks last of all 50 states for animal safety; animal abuse and neglect in Kentucky is not a felony—it's a misdemeanor.
This lack of ability to enact severe penalties is part of the of the reason why many animal abuse cases never go to court, said Jacque. The pretrial is extensive, she noted, as it can take a long time to contact witnesses and obtain photos and testimony in a neglect case.
However, she noted that though these cases are more complex, they are easier to prove: Lawyers do not have to prove that the defendant had intent to harm the animals—simply that he or she harmed them. The maximum fine for someone found guilty of animal neglect in Kentucky is 365 days imprisonment per animal (terms that can run concurrently) and a $500 per-animal fine.
Karen Gustin spoke on the how her organization handles neglected and abused horses that come into her care, whether from owner surrender or from another entity like an animal control department. At a minimum, Karen is required to have a veterinarian assess the horse and note its Body Condition Score. She must also take photos from very specific angles upon the horse's arrival; these images are sent to the State Veterinarian's Office and the horse is posted on the Stray or Abandoned Equine webpage. If the horse is not claimed by an owner in 15 days, it becomes the property of KyEHC.
“From the standpoint of a Center who provides rehabilitation to abused and neglected horses in order to ready them for adoption, some of the most challenging things we deal with are: A lack of knowledge about who to contact when abuse and neglect occurs; a lack of responsiveness from appropriate agencies … because of very limited resources and facilities to care for horses; and cost,” explains Karen. “Often these cases are very costly from a veterinary standpoint and nonprofits are challenged to ensure that funding is available for treatment. Typically, difficult cases can cost between $5,000 and $10,000 for emergency care and subsequent treatment.”
Overall, each of the panelists reiterated these points:
- While animal abuse is considered “low priority” compared to other crimes, if you see a horse you feel is being neglected (intentionally or not), report it.
- If you don't know who to contact, start somewhere—eventually you will be connected to the correct organization or person. If you feel nothing is being done and the animal is deteriorating, continue contacting the agencies responsible for investigating.
- Take photos of the horses, over time, and document what you see. Be willing to go on record with a statement about the horse's care or lack thereof.
As a farm owner or horse lover, consider locating an organization that helps with equine neglect and abuse cases in your area and find out how you can help. Help can range from financial donations, housing and care of surrendered horses, or even assistance with training officers unfamiliar with horses.
The next KENA meeting will take place on Feb. 19, 2019, at The Red Mile Clubhouse in Lexington.
Read more at the Kentucky Horse Council.
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