Young people take up cause of horses (Or)

They ask Jackson County commissioners to develop legislation to protect the animals against abuse, mistreatment

By DAMIAN MANN | Mail Tribune | August 17, 2008
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When it comes to horses, 15-year-old Allison Tokar is leading the charge against their abuse and mistreatment.

The Central Point teenager and 14 other young horse-owners pleaded with Jackson County commissioners Wednesday to create legislation that would better protect their equine friends and mete out stricter consequences for those who mistreat them.

“We hope they can get better laws,” said Allison.

She and the other girls point to problems at Eaglehorse Foundation near Talent, where they allege abuse, lack of feed and other mistreatment.

Eaglehorse has been investigated and cleared by Jackson County Environmental Health Services over two earlier allegations of abuse, but is still under investigation for a third allegation.

“We hope they can shut down places like Eaglehorse,” said Allison, who takes care of five horses that were formerly boarded at the nonprofit equestrian facility.

Allison and the other girls presented commissioners with suggestions about ways to monitor and prevent mistreatment of horses.

Among their requests, they suggested creating a committee to keep track of conditions, maintaining better records and fining those who don’t take care of horses properly.

After listening to their comments, Commissioner C.W. Smith said laws to better protect horses would have to be pursued at the state level.

“We are taking your comments to heart,” he told the girls.

Gary Stevens, program manager for Jackson County Environmental Health Services, said reports of abuse can be difficult to prove.

“A lot of these situations are borderline,” he said. “We try to work with the people to encourage better care.”

Sometimes his department provides education on the care of animals and sometimes it provides motivation, he said.

“The goal here is to get the animals better cared for,” he said.

Stevens said veterinarians are sent out to assess animal-abuse allegations. They look at animal husbandry practices, amount and quality of food, access to potable water, space for exercise, cleanliness conditions and access to a veterinarian.

He said he couldn’t reveal what the veterinarians discovered when they visited Eaglehorse this year.

Colleen Macuk, executive director of Jackson County Animal Care and Control, said her department cleared Eaglehorse of two allegations.

One was for starving horses, another was for a horse that supposedly wasn’t being properly cared for and was left standing in the mud.

She said she didn’t know how long the investigation would take over the latest allegation at Eaglehorse.

However, she said that over the past two winters her department has received more complaints of animals standing in the mud because of wetter conditions.

Her department has seen an upswing in reports of abuse that she attributes to both the more severe winters and the downturn in the economy.

Macuk receives all sorts of calls, such as dogs barking, horses that are so feeble they can’t get up, dead cattle in a field and even a dog that had died after being left in a dog carrier in a backyard.

Wendy Sweeten, board president for Eaglehorse, said she thinks the latest investigation will clear her organization.

“There is no case,” she said. “There is no story. It is closed.”

Sweeten said she took over as board president on Apil 21, and acknowledged that she cannot fully judge what happened previously. From what she’s determined, there has been no starvation and and there have been no abuse cases, she said.

Eaglehorse, a nonprofit designed to help young children, has 31 horses with access to 2,024 acres.

“What I’m seeing is personal issues between parties,” she said. “It is something they need to work out.”

Sweeten appeared surprised that 15 young women and girls presented their case before county commissioners.

“I’m not judging,” she said. “I don’t know why these young girls are getting involved.”

She wondered why, if volunteers and other board directors had problems with the operation, they didn’t speak up earlier.

Allison’s father, Brian Tokar, said he had reservations about Eaglehorse from the moment he saw it more than two years ago.

“The place was a dump,” he said.

But his daughter’s enthusiasm persuaded him to give it a try.

They shoveled manure out of stalls, brought in their own feed and worked to change conditions at Eaglehorse for more than one year. “We tried to help them turn it around,” he said.

About a year ago, he’d had enough and bought some acreage north of Central Point that now houses six horses and a miniature horse.

Tokar, a contractor, is building a pole barn to add to the horse facilities on the property.

Allison said she would like to rescue more horses from Eaglehorse, if she could.

“I wish I could get the horses from there and bring them to our home,” she said.

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