By Anne Zinn
The perspective of society toward horses has shifted from considering horses as farm animals to considering them as companion animals. Even though the statutes and regulations surrounding equine neglect, cruelty, and abandonment reflect this change, the ability to enforce the laws has not kept pace. In a study appearing in the May 2014 issue of the Journal of Animal Science, Dr. Carolyn Stull and Dr. Kathryn Holcomb from the University of California-Davis conducted a 128-question online survey to identify the role and capacity of local animal control services in the United States that conduct equine neglect, cruelty, and abandonment investigations. The objective was to identify challenges and outcomes of the investigative process.
The survey was made accessible to municipal animal control agencies around the United States. The comprehensive set of questions included the agencies’ “capacity for investigating equine cases, funding, housing for horses, and causes and outcomes of investigations.” There were 165 respondents from 26 states, with a total of 6,864 initiated equine investigations by 90 agencies (the majority from California and Virginia) between 2007 and 2009.
The results showed that neglect was indicated in the survey as the most common reason for an investigation to take place. Owner ignorance, economic hardship, and lack of responsibility for equine care (primarily lack of adequate feed and water) were the highest ranked reasons for neglect and cruelty toward horses. In many of these cases, the agencies opted to provide education in proper horse care, and very few (5.1%) of the investigations proceeded to prosecution. However, when cases were prosecuted, 83.5% resulted in guilty verdicts. The majority of guilty verdicts were for neglect, rather than for cruelty or abuse. This may reflect the difficulty in building cases for alleged cruelty and abuse. Survey results also revealed that animal control agencies are facing a lack of funding for animal care and personnel to investigate cases, inadequate facilities for horses, and limited ability to provide education for horse owners to aid in prevention and resolution of cases.
The authors suggest a few possibilities that may lessen the investigational burden, including a volunteer program within the community, development of minimum standards of care, distribution of educational materials, and identification of facilities for unwanted horses. As society’s viewpoint of horses continues to transition from livestock to companion animals, more regulations and challenges should be expected.
ASAS Media Communications