Painful to see | Emaciated horses cause for concern

Published 8:32 am Sunday, July 29, 2012


Residents of Washington Parish are concerned, and lives are at stake. They say that because the parish is poor and because the ones that are threatened are not human, the necessary sense of urgency is not evident in those who could put a stop to the apparent abuse or neglect of three nearly skeletal horses on Mt. Pleasant Road.

One man who asked to remain anonymous said he has to drive past the horses every day, that it is “painful to see” and that although the situation has been repeatedly reported to the sheriff’s office, “nothing has been done and the horses will die a slow, painful death.”

The horses’ owner could not be reached for comment.

Sheriff Randy Seal said the already complex animal issue is made more difficult by a lack of available funding.

“I’m all for protecting animals, but with the limited money we have, if you have to choose between getting into the full time animal control business or taking care of some little old lady that got mistreated, you know which way I’m going,” he said.

“When I got elected, the leaders of the HART (Homeless Animal Rescue Team) group wanted me to deputize them and let them be the animal control police. I don’t know these people personally, and that would open up a lot of liability. (Chief Deputy) Mike Haley met with them and we decided not to go that route. Where are you going to put the horses? Who is going to feed them? Who pays the vet bill? I’d love to take them in, but I don’t have the money.”

Haley said there are legal, insurance, liability and logistics issues involved in animal control.

He said that the sheriff’s office does check out complaints of animal abuse, but that he is unaware of any punishments being meted out since Seal took office on July 2.

“When we get a complaint, we go look and determine if there is abuse,” Haley said. “If there is a concern, we talk with the owners and ask them to do what is necessary.

“I am aware of no penalty at this point, no citation, just a warning. If it continues to be obvious, we will have a vet go out and look, but who will pay? It’s not a simple issue.”

Haley said he believes the responsibility for animal control might actually rest with the parish, not the sheriff’s department, but even then it would compete with infrastructure, roads and citizen safety needs for funding.

He said he would “certainly support” a horse enclosure at the parish animal shelter, which has been partially built and in limbo for years, at the Rayburn Correctional Center.

Seal said he would “be the first to give a donation” to any grass-roots-initiated project to help the animals, but that the financing for a program must be sustainable and not one-time funding.

Jeff Dorson, executive director of the Humane Society of Louisiana, said there is a way to help the animals that are suffering now while taking nothing from human causes. He said that his group and HART “reached out” to the sheriff once and will do it again.

“I understand that they don’t have many resources,” Dorson said. “The Humane Society will reach out with contacts, ideas for resources and a strategic game plan for options.

“There are people, horse owners and horse associations, who would accept a horse that’s in protective custody. And there are people who would donate time, resources, trailers…”

He urges the sheriff’s office and parish to take part in a team effort to help the needy animals.

“We’re reaching out,” Dorson said. “We will coordinate supplies and resources. They just have to work it out.

“I understand it’s a huge problem. But it’s not going to go away, and there are animals in distress.”

Washington Parish President Richard Thom-as said he is familiar with the issue and willing to be a part of the team.

“I know that the sheriff’s department and Washington Parish government are going to work together along with the Humane Society and SPCA to address the problems,” he said. “Parish government will continue, as in the past, to work with these agencies to resolve the problems with animal abuse.”

Thomas said parish government and the sheriff’s office are now reviewing the state laws on animal abuse and working to “form a plan of action.”

“Parish government has had several incidents in the past, one being a horse died and because the owner could not be found the remaining horse and the sheep were removed from the property and given to the volunteers of the Humane Society and SPCA to give the proper care,” he said. “The second incident involved a horse owner that was found guilty of animal abuse in early 2012, went to court where a parish government representative testified to the abuse. The animal abuser was prosecuted, fined and given probation.”

The owners are ultimately responsible for taking care of their dependent animals, “but parish government, the sheriff, constables and justices of the peace, along with the Ward 4 marshal are responsible to know the laws that are in place and to enforce them as they deal with animal cruelty and abuse,” Thomas said.

Financial need is no excuse for neglect or abuse, he added.

“There are facilities in place for those who feel that they can no longer take care of an animal,” Thomas said. “You need to check with the local Humane Society for those facilities. As animal owners, we all have the responsibility to do the right thing. If at any time, we feel that we are no longer able to take care of an animal in the proper way we should do the right thing and find someone else who can.”

The parish president said he would not “dismiss” anyone with concerns for the local animal population, including the homeless dogs and cats that are targeted to be helped by the shelter at RCC.

“We do understand,” Thomas said. “We are continuing our efforts to move forward with the animal shelter, but funding is limited… and at this point we have to do what is best for everyone involved.”

Excerpts from state law on cruelty to animals

Simple cruelty to animals:  

—Whoever commits the crime of simple cruelty to animals shall be fined not more than one thousand dollars, or imprisoned for not more than six months, or both.

—Whoever commits a second or subsequent offense of simple cruelty to animals shall be fined not less than $5,000 nor more than $25,000 or imprisoned, with or without hard labor, for not less than one year nor more than 10 years, or both.  In addition, the court shall issue an order prohibiting the defendant from owning or keeping animals for a period of time deemed appropriate by the court.

—In addition to any other penalty imposed, a person who commits the crime of cruelty to animals shall be ordered to perform five eight-hour days of court-approved community service.  The community service requirement shall not be suspended.

—In addition to any other penalty imposed, the court may order a psychological evaluation or anger management treatment for a first conviction of the crime of simple cruelty to animals.  For a second or subsequent offense of the crime of simple cruelty to an animal, the court shall order a psychological evaluation or anger management treatment.  Any costs associated with any evaluation or treatment ordered by the court shall be borne by the defendant.

—If more than one animal is subject to an act of cruel treatment by an offender, each act shall constitute a separate offense.

Aggravated cruelty to animals:

—Whoever commits the crime of aggravated cruelty to animals shall be fined not less than $5,000 nor more than $25,000 or imprisoned, with or without hard labor, for not less than one year nor more than 10 years, or both.

Seizure and disposition of animals cruelly treated:

—When a person is charged with cruelty to animals, said person’s animal may be seized by the arresting officer and held.