The causes of animal neglect and abuse vary, but two main ones generally are economic reasons and ignorance of what proper care of horses entails.
By NANCY BRANNON | Mid-South Horse Review News | Story URL
This year’s American Horse Council National Issues Forum focused on welfare of the horse. Dr. Scott Palmer, former President of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, in his keynote address, pointed out how human relations with horses have evolved over the ages. He stressed the importance of maintaining the balance between logos (logic), ethos (ethics) and pathos (emotion) in the care of horses. “There is no denying the emotional benefits from our relationship with horses, yet these rewards come with a responsibility to embrace the ethical and logical aspects of horse ownership,” he said.
Gary Carpenter of the American Quarter Horse Foundation spoke to the Forum about knowing the difference between opinion and fact. He emphasized the importance of staying informed on all equine welfare issues, not just those affecting your activities, and the importance of informing others about welfare efforts the horse industry is making.
The American Veterinary Medical Association defines animal welfare as “the ethical responsibility of ensuring animal well-being, …the condition in which animals experience good health, are able to effectively cope with their environment, and are able to express a diversity of species-typical behaviors. Protecting an animal’s welfare means providing for its physical and mental needs. Ensuring animal welfare is a human responsibility that includes consideration for all aspects of animal well-being, including proper housing, management, nutrition, disease prevention and treatment, responsible care, humane handling, and, when necessary, humane euthanasia.” More information about the AVMA position is at http://www.avma.org/issues/animal_welfare/default.asp.
Kate F. Hurley, DVM, MPVM in “Animal Cruelty and Neglect: Recognition, Reporting and Resources” (2005) wrote: animal abuse includes “a range of behaviors harmful to animals, both intentional and unintentional harm or neglect. Animal cruelty statutes exist in all 50 states, but legal definitions of cruelty vary. A listing of some state animal cruelty laws can be found at http://www.animal-law.org/statutes/index.html. In addition to unnecessary torture, suffering or death, definitions of cruelty may include failure to provide adequate food, water, or medical care, improper confinement or transportation, animal abandonment and animal fighting, and many other categories of prohibited behavior.”
The causes of animal neglect and abuse vary, but two main ones generally are economic reasons and ignorance of what proper care of horses entails. Another factor is animal hoarding, which is “defined as: (1) keeping more than the typical number of companion animals. (2) Inability to provide even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter, and veterinary care, with this neglect often resulting in starvation, illness, and death. (3) Denial of the inability to provide this minimum care and the impact of that failure on the animals, the household, and human occupants of the dwelling” (Hurley 2005).
Reporting animal abuse is a requirement in many states. The American Veterinary Medical Association “(AVMA) recognizes that veterinarians may observe cases of animal abuse or neglect as defined by federal or state laws, or local ordinances. When these situations cannot be resolved through education, the AVMA considers it the responsibility of the veterinarian to report such cases to appropriate authorities. Disclosure may be necessary to protect the health and welfare of animals and people. Veterinarians should be aware that accurate record keeping and documentation of these cases are invaluable.” For more information, see: http://www.avma.org/issues/policy/animal_welfare/abuse.asp. Enforcement of animal cruelty laws is the purview of a variety of agencies, varying by locality. Animal cruelty laws are often enforced by “County or city animal control officers; Humane officers employed by non-profit animal shelters; and local police or county sheriff” (Hurley 2005).
Recently, two Memphis, Tennessee television stations aired news stories about starving and neglected horses. WMC-TV5 reported August 24 about an attempted rescue of alleged starving horses in DeSoto County, MS. On September 9, WREG News Channel 3 reported the rescue of starving horses in Lansing, Arkansas, where the owner could face felony charges. In April 2008, 11 neglected horses were confiscated from a Fayette County man, who was later found guilty of “animal cruelty charges for mistreating 17 horses he kept on his farm in Williston, TN” [report from the Commercial Appeal 7/19/08].
The WMC-TV5 report concerned alleged neglect of several horses owned by Ann Johnson at Wynnewood Stables on Center Hill Road in DeSoto County, Mississippi. The story recounted veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Dunlap seeing something that horrified her when she was at the stable working on a boarder’s horse. “The four horses that we saw had body condition scores of one out of nine – basically hide stretched over bone,” she said. Dunlap said the horses had little access to water or food, and feared they couldn’t last much longer. The owner of the horses was reported to say they have cancer. Veterinarian, Dr. Mark Akin reported that he had examined the horses in question and “did not see any signs of abuse. The horses are old and have dealt with some disease issues in the past.”
A boarder at the stable expressed great concern for the health and well being of these horses. She said these horses are not totally without food and water, but do not get nearly enough hay and grain for maintenance, and their water is often dirty and insufficient. She said she knows of seven other horses in the same condition at this stable who died last year.
Dr. Mark Akin is a past member of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) Welfare Committee. He spoke about animal neglect/abuse in general and the horses at Wynnewood in particular. “My definition of abuse is: deliberate, malicious infliction of pain on animals with intent to physically harm the animals.” Dr. Akin also remarked about neglect. “Ann Johnson is guilty of neither one,” he said. He gave detailed information about the physical condition of five horses “in question” at Wynnewood, their long-term medical conditions and why they do not put on weight and keep weight on. The conditions he described include: heart murmurs in two of the horses; weekly colic in one horse; another with a tumor on the jaw; one with “bad, bad GI ulcers in the stomach and small intestine;” one with “an arthritic right knee;” one with an eye tumor, a Squamous cell carcinoma; and another has “an abscess in the right front foot, and is grossly underweight.” He believes that the owner is not guilty of animal cruelty. “It’s not for lack of caring, but it’s hard for her to let go. This [condition] is not acceptable to me or to her, but she’s trying to deal with the horses’ multiple organ system problems.”
Dr. Jennifer Dunlap saw many of the same medical problems described by Dr. Akin. She was at the barn when the August rescue of the ailing horses was attempted. “I looked at the horses’ manure. There was nothing in the manure, no speck of grain. There should have been some bits of grain in the manure. It was dark, tarry, and there was bark, inappropriate feedstuff, in the manure. These horses exhibit the classic signs of starvation. Four of the horses are not likely to survive. One thin horse in the large group is questionable. The boarders’ horses are “OK” and sufficiently cared for. Dr. Dunlap said there had been another attempted rescue of the horses in February of this year.
Research of additional sources found the following information about Squamous cell carcinomas, heart murmurs, and effects of starvation.
“Squamous cell carcinoma has been reported to be the second most commonly diagnosed tumor of the horse, representing up to twenty percent of diagnosed neoplasms. About 80% of eye neoplasms are malignant. Squamous cell carcinoma occurs most frequently in horses 8-10 years old and may occur more frequently in those with lightly- or non-pigmented eyelids. [Sources: “Veterinary Corner 12/99: Common Skin Tumors of the Horse,” by Scott Habegger, DVM; The Merck Veterinary Manual]
“A recent study showed that only 10% of horses with heart murmurs have reduced performance. Weight loss is a common sequel to chronic disease in the horse. Some conditions which cause severe weight loss include: parasitism; neoplasia n especially gastrointestinal or pituitary; EIA; dental problems; debilitating injuries, e.g., joint infections; and heart problems. In the absence of chronic disease, aging and/or severe malnutrition are the primary causes of progressive weight loss. Jerry Finch’s “From Seizure to Adoption: A guide to rehabilitating the starved horse indicates that the “lingering effects of starvation” include “heart murmurs.” Finocchio finds that systolic murmurs are often detected, most likely due to anemia. [Source: “Equine Starvation: Recognition and rehabilitation of the recumbent, malnourished horse,” by E. J. Finocchio, DVM]
Jerry Finch’s article provided further information. “In its last days, a starved horse looks like skin has been sprayed over its skeleton, with well defined hip bones, spinal processes and ribs just underneath the skin. Despite so many odds, the will to live often keeps the horse going far longer than it seems possible. We’ve seen them eat fence posts and rails, trees and dirt, just to stay alive a little longer.
“There are any number of reasons why a horse might get into this condition, but the primary reason is either lack of knowledge or economic failure on the part of the person charged with caring for the horse.
“What eventually kills the horse isn’t what you see on the outside, it’s the effects within the horse’s system that brings a horrible, prolonged death. When access to feed and hay is denied, the body starts using carbohydrates and fat to produce the necessary energy. These are naturally stored in a healthy horse, but can be depleted fairly rapidly, and once gone, the system will turn to protein to keep it alive, drawing protein from muscles, the heart and all the other organs. The cause of weight loss always represents the basic fact that far too few calories are being consumed.
“Horses that have been abused or neglected may suffer from any number of issues in addition to the outwardly-apparent weight loss: dehydration; intestinal parasites; colic; diarrhea, skin problems and parasites that may cause hair loss (rain rot, mange, lice, ticks); joint problems; weakness; inability to rise; difficulty standing or walking; hoof problems (thrush, laminitis, cracked hooves); sores comparable to bed/pressure sores in humans; cut, abrasions, and open wounds; equine distemper (Strangles) and accompanying abscesses and nasal discharge; pneumonia; liver failure; heart murmurs …”
Dr. Kim Garner of Big Creek Animal Hospital said, “Horses starve for reasons not always related to food. Rehabilitation takes money, time, and effort and not everyone has these. Animals are a responsibility n not a right. If a person is not taking proper care of them, then they shouldn’t have the animals. It is less cruel to euthanize them than to watch them starve to death.
“Horses need individualized care and adequate stabling in a safe situation. Appropriate diets should be formulated, and fed at appropriate amounts and frequencies. Horses need TLC. The weather will get cold soon and horses that have virtually no body fat will die without intervention. Even with intervention they may die, but they at least stand a chance of survival.”
The law concerning abuse and neglect is clear. Mississippi Cruelty To Animals Statutes, Title 97, Chapter 41 states:
“97-41-1. Living creatures not to be cruelly treated. If any person shall override, overdrive, overload, torture, torment, unjustifiably injure, deprive of necessary sustenance, food, or drink; or cruelly beat or needlessly mutilate; or cause or procure to be overridden, overdriven, overloaded, tortured, unjustifiably injured, tormented, or deprived of necessary sustenance, food or drink; or to be cruelly beaten or needlessly mutilated or killed, any living creature, every such offender shall, for every offense, be guilty of a misdemeanor.
“97-41-2. Seizure of mistreated animal: (1) All courts in the State of Mississippi may order the seizure of an animal by a law enforcement agency, for its care and protection upon a finding of probable cause to believe said animal is being cruelly treated, neglected or abandoned. Such probable cause may be established upon sworn testimony of any person who has witnessed the condition of said animal. The court may appoint an animal control agency, agent of an animal shelter organization, veterinarian or other person as temporary custodian for the said animal, pending final disposition of the animal pursuant to this section. Such temporary custodian shall directly contract and be responsible for any care rendered to such animal, and may make arrangements for such care as may be necessary. Upon seizure of an animal, the law enforcement agency responsible for removal of the animal shall serve notice upon the owner of the animal, if possible, and shall also post prominently a notice to the owner or custodian to inform such person that the animal has been seized. Such process and notice shall contain a description of the animal seized, the date seized, the name of the law enforcement agency seizing the animal, the name of the temporary custodian, if known at the time, and shall be signed by the court issuing the order.”
DeSoto County Sheriff Bill Rasco said he had been out to Wynnewood Stables several times over the last three years. He said he, personally, has had horses his entire life. He agreed that the horses are in bad shape, but said, “The horses have feed and water there. If I thought the horses were being mistreated, I would step in. But there’s no way I can go out there and make her put her horses down. Those horses are old. She’s had them for a long time and has become attached to them. She said if she thought the horses were in pain she would be willing to put them down. But I don’t have the authority to step in when the horses have hay, feed, and water, and have veterinary care. I believe Ms. Ann cares about the horses and gives them what they need. However, I do have the authority to step in when I think horses are being mistreated.”
The need for proper care for horses, and the results of inadequate care, is an issue that is likely to remain prominent as the economy continues to take its toll. Information about adequate care can be obtained from courses offered by the UT Extension Office. Numerous rescue groups are available to accept surrendered horses and find suitable homes for them. It will be a great day when animals can get the proper care they need and abuse and neglect will be an extinct legacy.
Heneke Equine Body Condition Scoring
0 – Poor
1 – Very Thin
2 – Thin
3 – Moderately Thin
4 – Moderate
5 – Moderate to Fleshy
6 – Fleshy
Other charts use numbers 1 to 7.
For detailed descriptions of each body condition score, see: http://equineprotectionnetwork.com/cruelty/henneke.htm