Monday, November 16, 2009

Neglect and Abuse Cases- What can be done?

I think that, given Fugly's blog is umpteen times bigger than my own, it is safe to assume that anyone concerned with the issue of the "starving reining horses" in Washington have either already seen Fugly's blog or will in the near future.

Fugly's decision to publish the name and ranch of those who are accused of starving some reining horses in Snohomish County Washington was one I previously chose not make in light of the fact that I was unable to ensure that any information I posted was factual and/or that it served the purpose of helping the horses concerned.

Bloggers are not held to the same ethical standard as journalists, but with the evolution of the Internet in our culture, more and more of the public has come to rely upon blogs as a source of news and information and as such, I feel we bloggers must take responsibility for ensuring that anything we write, when presented as fact, is such and that the rights of the individual are being respected. Laws against libel and slander exist, in part, to avoid the mob mentality and potential for vigilantism that can be created when the public's emotion is called to rise by those who offer neither facts, an un-bias opinion or a solution.

While it may seem I am putting the rights of those who may be violating the responsibilities inherent in owning and caring for animals, over the concern for those who are being subject to their abuses, I'd like to point out that attacking the accused does little to help the situation, and in fact may be counterproductive.

My reason behind first blogging about this issue was to hear from people that knew of the situation first hand and to find out what was being said and done to help those horses. I also wanted to express my shock that such neglect could happen to animals so valuable.

After writing that post I e-mailed a number of people in an attempt to find out- First, what was true; Second, what had already been done; and Third, what more I could do to help.

In the past, when faced with a case of neglect, abuse, and/or horses that are in need of the public's help I have found it most helpful to first ask:

Who has power to feed, remove, view and control these horses?

The answer almost always is the owner and the government.

Those who have the greatest position of influence- friends, family and peers- are most likely to be able to persuade the owner to accept help. In this case I am sure Judy Caton was overwhelmed by the e-mails, phone calls and visitors from all of these concerned fellow breeders and trainers in her community. Anyone in a position of influence, that was willing to do so, has no doubt already tried to remedy the situation.

If social pressure from an owner's peer group is unable to persuade him or her, it seems unlikely the public would fair much better.

And so that leaves us with government intervention and Fugly's suggestion that Animal Control be called. Obviously, if anyone is witness to any kind of abuse or neglect it is our responsibility to report it to the local Animal Control office. However, I worry that rallying a group of third parites together to call on mass will do little but overwhelm the office staff, who are probably overrun with the unfortunate byproduct of this economy (unwanted, neglected and abandoned animals.)

My experience has been, in such cases where it seems the local authorities are doing little or nothing to resolve the problem, it is because they are subject to certain legal procedures and protocols in order to seize property (and horses are considered property). Restrictions like whether there is enough feed on the property to for the number in the herd, mitigating circumstances that could have lead to the horses declining health, the owners explanation, the person(s) responsible for their care vs. owner(s) etc.. are all factors that could leave the humane society will little choice to but wait for the situation to decline. No amount of public outcry can change the ability for local animal control to act in a case where there is no legal merit. As these laws are made at the legislative level, I think we are better served to put the presure of such social activism against those who have the power to exact change.

Another source of potential change within the industry could be within the governing bodies of equine sports like the NRHA, NCHA or NSBA not to mention breed associations like the AQHA or APHA. Should these organizations take stand on the breeding and husbandry practises of their members? Should limits be placed on breeders? Should licences or registration privileges be revolved for abuse or neglect cases?


  1. I'm not sure the State of Washington RCW's considers livestock property, they are living breathing animals. Far less abusive cases of animal abuse have been prosecuted in the state of Washington. The state of Montana would have removed & confiscated those horses within no time had the Humane Society or a citizen notified Law Enforcement with the evidence of the photos being sent through out the horse world in the past few days. I have to wonder what kind of Cowboy or Cowgirl wanna bees witnessed the abuse of these horses long ago & didn't have the good sense to report it then.

    If these horses are not removed within a short time now the citizens living in that area need to contact the powers that be over the heads of the local law enforcement. There certainly is proof of who owns those horses with the owners brand plainly visible in the photos as evidence; a Washington State Brand Inspector could identify within a few minutes of checking his Washington State brand book. There is absolutely no excuse for those horses to be in the condition they are & no sob story concerning the negligent abusive owner is going to satisfy me there is. I'm darn proud of a real cowboy, horse trainer & our friend that brought the horrific treatment of these horses to light.

  2. I commend you for a very well written and, in my opinion, responsible post. I totally agree with your decision to withhold the specific details of this case until you were able to verify the information. You make some very good points about the realities of abuse cases and the manner in which they are resolved. It is unfortunate that the horses end up suffering; however, until negligence is proven not much can be done. I do appreciate your decision to bring this information to light: I do not follow Fugly's blog and would not have otherwise heard about this. I think in cases like this, it is just as important to educate people about abuse (whether intentional or not) as it is to solve the particular case you refer to. For someone like me, who lives all the way across the country and has no direct affiliation with the case, the best course of action is to be aware and keep my eyes open for similar cases in my own area. Thank you again for the responsible information you provided.

  3. in general, if there is a report of abuse there is an investigation. That investigation will lead to a written report that compiles the findings of the investigation. Most likely that report will NOT be available to the public though there might be a public news release, especially in such a high profile case. If the case is founded, then there will be charges filed but there *must* be an investigation first and often these investigations take time. It is far more than going out, seeing some skinny horses and being outraged.

    anonymous wrote: If these horses are not removed within a short time now the citizens living in that area need to contact the powers that be over the heads of the local law enforcement.

    no. Just no. If the case has been reported, then there will be an investigation. Being patient while the investigation is being conducted will get you further than causing grief to the investigators and pulling them away from interviews and checking the scene to explain to their supervisors or the "higher ups" what is going on. Understand how this works. The investigators must do interviews and people work, go on vacation, are ill etc. So sometimes it takes time to set up interviews with neighbors, potential witnesses and others that would have some FIRST HAND knowledge of how this happened and over what time period. In addition to that, investigators who are putting a case together need cooperation, so you don't go into an interview with a neighbor or a feed delivery guy who might have seen this and tell them "you have to tell me what you know". Sometimes, you have to become their friend and THEN ask the hard questions. Be patient. Be courteous. You can bet that the news media will be all over this like flies on .... well, you know. This is juicy stuff and they will be calling regularly for any updates.

    Your better bet would be to call the local news people to see if they have anything new and let them do the calling.

  4. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. All I can say is something must have gone horribly wrong for Ms. Caton to have allowed her horses to lose so much condition. Prayers are needed in this situation.

  5. I disagree on some of the points made in your blog. It was imperative that this went public in a big way. I don’t spend much time on the internet and didn’t hear about this until the middle of February. Many of the people that commented on Fugly’s blog appear to know Judy Caton well and they were being very kind to her. Just a few days before you wrote your blog Judy and two of her daughters were dragging another dead horse to the carcass pile so they could be buried before animal control could find them. Animal Control and others have been made aware of this and also the name of the person that buried them, John Mueller. If it were not for the well deserved outrage of the people, the media, and the blogs and bloggers naming names, this information may never have come to the fore. Judy has had lots of money for lawyers over the past ten years, we don’t see there ribs sticking out of there skin! Prosecution, conviction and incarceration are the only thing she will ever understand. No animal will ever be safe in her care! And blaming this whole thing on her 16 year old daughter, it is a fact that she has, is a whole supplementary issue.


  6. A veterinarian in November determined that three of her herd, including Whiz, her champion gelding, had been so poorly nourished over an extended period that they experienced considerable pain and suffering, according to Snohomish County Animal Control records.

    RCW 16.52.205 Animal cruelty in the first degree.
    (1) A person is guilty of animal cruelty in the first degree when, except as authorized in law, he or she intentionally (a) inflicts substantial pain on, (b) causes physical injury to, or (c) kills an animal by a means causing undue suffering, or forces a minor to inflict unnecessary pain, injury, or death on an animal.

    (2) A person is guilty of animal cruelty in the first degree when, except as authorized by law, he or she, with criminal negligence, starves, dehydrates, or suffocates an animal and as a result causes: (a) Substantial and unjustifiable physical pain that extends for a period sufficient to cause considerable suffering; or (b) death.
    Need I say MORE?