Panel Adds Equine Welfare to List
The May 12 seizure of some 30 abused animals, mostly horses, from a farm near Cameron, points to a growing problem in Moore County.
Members of the county's animal control ordinance revision committee agreed Tuesday night to add equine welfare to the list of concerns that need to be addressed, along with provisions to deal with feral cats.
"We're sitting on a time bomb," Dr. Tom Daniel, a veterinarian member of the committee, said of the equine safety issue.
Daniel told the committee that Moore County is especially vulnerable for abuse of horses and other equines because of the popularity of equestrian activities here.
The problem extends beyond deliberate abuse by horse owners. Daniel said that horses, like humans and other animals, grow old and feeble and need special care in their old age. Many owners lose interest in care when horses grow too old to be ridden, raced or used for work purposes. They are unwilling to spend the money on food, shelter, hoof care and veterinary attention.
The best option in such cases is euthanization in the field, but Daniel pointed out that some owners don't have enough money to dispose of the body properly. State law hasn't made the situation any easier. No longer may horses be taken to regional slaughter houses, and burial requires deep excavation to meet state environmental regulations.
Daniel said a federal law is being considered to prohibit the transport of animals across national borders to slaughterhouses in other countries, where treatment may be less humane.
County Commissioner Jimmy Melton, the county board's liaison to the committee, suggested that a subcommittee be formed, including Daniel, animal control personnel, and Deputy County Attorney Brenda White, to come up with ideas to cover this issue adequately in the ordinance.
"This is very important," Melton said. "We don't need to sweep this under the rug."
Melton also suggested that the group talk with equine specialists in Kentucky, Tennessee and other states with large equine populations to determine how they handle these issues.
Daniel said money is the issue in most local situations. Horse owners may not have enough money to pay someone to pick up the carcass and dispose of it legally.
"If you can afford a horse, this is part of your responsibility," Melton said.
"There is no inherent right to own a horse if you can't care for it," added Morris.
Daniel had submitted a set of recommendations covering equine welfare to be studied for inclusion in the ordinance. This issue was discussed at a previous meeting, when members reached agreement that equines, horses in particular, need a special provision in the ordinance, because of their size and because of the large number in Moore County.
His recommendations cover housing, fencing, food and preventive care.
One paragraph in his recommendation reads: "Each animal shall have access to shelter appropriate for its state of health. Animals in a normal state of health may be maintained in a pasture environment where natural shelter provides sufficient protection from sun, wind, rain and other inclement weather. Where this is not available or for animals in a debilitated state of health, access to a man-made shelter is required. These shelters are to be maintained so as to minimize the opportunity for injury."
The document also describes suitable shelter and spells out size requirements based on the type of equine.
Daniel asked for legal assistance to avoid problems encountered by animal control officers who must investigate abuse situations. He recommended that the ordinance require that animals have unlimited access to a source of clean water as well as sufficient food to maintain normal body weight.
Other recommendations address hoof care, vaccinations, deworming and veterinary care.
Frank Ringelberg, an animal control officer and committee member, said that owners who abuse horses always seem to know in advance when to expect a visit and often have a bag of feed or bale of hay in plain view when animal control officers arrive. Although it may be obvious to the officer that the horse is undernourished and in poor health, the owner can point to the available food and claim the horse is well cared for.
The committee also continued its discussion of feral cat provisions but again reached no final decisions on language.
At issue is protection of feral cat colonies receiving care from sympathetic residents while avoiding breaking a state law requiring that all cats and dogs be vaccinated against rabies. Moore County has a number of interested individuals and groups that feed feral cats and also trap them for spaying or neutering and for vaccinations.
The sterilization procedure is permanent and helps to prevent the birth of more and more feral cats, but rabies vaccinations must be administered yearly to be effective.
Brenda White, the member of the county attorney's staff who has been working with the committee, called this particular issue "probably the most complex area to be addressed in the ordinance." She said some counties omit this issue from their ordinances because of the enforcement problem. However, White said she is continuing to work on suitable language to address the issue.
Melton expressed appreciation to the concerned group, known as Feral Friends of the Sandhills, for collecting information on feral cats to assist the committee.
Feral cats are cats, or their descendants, that were once domesticated but were abandoned by their owners to become independent in the wild. Programs to trap feral cats, spay or neuter them and return them to the wild are designed to prevent them from bearing more feral generations.
However, the issue is not without controversy, for opponents argue that feral cats kill birds and other wild animals and can spread rabies and they object to efforts to protect feral colonies.
At the last meeting, it was revealed that colonies of feral cats are found all across the county, including the more populous municipalities.
"We're going to address it (the feral cat issue) and come up with a good ordinance," Melton said.
"The issue is difficult because it's complicated, not because it's contentious," said Morris.
At the request of Corky O'Connor, the committee member representing the Humane Society, the committee has amended the definition of an animal owner as the person or group "that keeps or harbors an animal, or has an animal in their care, or acts as a custodian of an animal for seven or more consecutive days unless the animal is being boarded for a fee." In such cases the owner is responsible for the care, actions and behavior of the animals.
O'Connor also asked that the committee consider adding a paragraph making such individuals responsible for compliance with ordinance provisions covering the care of such animals.
The present ordinance prohibits an individual or group from keeping a stray animal in possession for more than 72 hours without notifying authorities. O'Connor expressed concern about this provision, which has not been widely publicized and is not known by most people. In fact, O'Connor said she was unaware of this law until the committee began studying the ordinance for revision purposes.
Under that provision, any person who befriends a stray dog or cat is breaking the law if he or she does not notify animal control officers within 72 hours. In theory, this applies to any well-meaning individual who takes in a dog or cat that wanders up to the home after being abandoned by its owner.
O'Connor said the provision needs to be clarified and also needs to be more widely publicized.
The committee meets every two weeks to review sections of the ordinance for revision and to study additions and other changes. Once the committee approves the final product, the attorney must study it for legal fine-tuning. The committee's final recommendations will go to the Board of Commissioners for adoption. A public hearing will be held before final action is taken.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at 947-4962 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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