Are You an Advocate for Horses?

RRHR's Keira and my friend, Amelia.

RRHR’s Keira and my friend, Amelia.

Neglected horses are everywhere in the news lately. By the time you make sense of the images, it’s too late to look away. You might be keeping an sad eye on some thin horses in your local area. Maybe you remember Ruby Ranch Horse Rescue’s Vinnie, who was here for evaluation and training for a few months, and Keira after him.

I took a vacation this summer, the first one in a decade. I sat in a court room with no windows for a week, with concerned citizens and fellow board members of Horse Advocates of Colorado, listening to testimony in an animal cruelty case. In a different neglect trial, I was a witness. I’ve always known the rescue side, but this year I came to understand some of the challenges for law enforcement and I’ve been both inspired and demoralized by our American court system.

This year I’ve been name-called and lost dear friends. I’ve seen the stress of fighting the good fight take its toll on good-hearted people, and I have seen callous people, with no concern for life, behave despicably with no acknowledgement or apology. It isn’t like I was remotely new to equine neglect and abuse; we win some and lose some, but this year has been an special education.

The first question people ask is how can someone let this happen to their horses? Simple, it usually all begins with a change in the usual routine. Colorado has had its fair share of floods and fires recently. Sometimes a horse owner has a health challenge or loses their job or has a death in the family. Sadly, at any given time, we are all vulnerable. There, but for the grace of God, go any of us.

The real question is what happens next? Some of us will move quickly to sell or re-home our horses, hoping to keep them safe. Or mitigate the costs by finding someone to part-lease him. But sometimes the issues keep coming and time gets away as we struggle to keep up. By then our horses are thin and perhaps failing. Now what? We’re too embarrassed to call the vet, if we even have the money. And afraid that someone will report us to the sheriff the rest of the time. As a last resort, would you take him to an auction? Let him die in the pasture and hope no one sees? How desperate will it get?

And yes, a percentage of humans just don’t care. They see animals as personal property–theirs to do use and dispose of as they like. For sake of pride, they spend thousands on attorneys and court fees, rather than do the right thing for animals in the first place.

But, you say, someone would be crazy to leave them to starve. Well, yes. Exactly. Mental illness usually plays a common part in animal neglect and abuse. Some humans are sick enough to choose blood and money; to be malicious without remorse.

The thing all these scenarios have in common is that no one asked for help. Humans don’t like being seen as weak or failing. Most horse people pride themselves on being independent and resourceful. And then, if asking for help wasn’t hard enough, it can be hard to accept the help offered. Humans are complicated.

Once we ask, things can start to move. Family and neighbors step up. There are community resources like hay banks that offer help. Even deputies will lend a hand. I have such respect for people who humble themselves in deference to their animal’s welfare. It shows character.

The second most common opinion heard from the public, usually extremely hostile, is that the court’s punishment is too light. People often suggest starving and torturing the animal abusers. Trust me, I understand the sentiment. It’s easy to have a hard-line of disdain for anyone with a thin horse, because it gives us a way to distance ourselves from our own vulnerability. After all, I have two hard keepers in my own barn. But threatening violence makes us guilty of the thing we are fighting against. Could we rant in the closet and then elevate the public conversation to a more helpful level?

There’s gray area; the difference between the crazy abusers and the disadvantaged owners is important to understand. Some deserve our compassion and help. And some deserve all the punishment that the law will allow. If you think the sentencing is too lenient, then it’s obvious–stop complaining and get involved.

Here’s one new light: The FBI Makes Horse Abuse a Felony in January, 2016. Not just a felony, but a Class-A Felony. That puts horse abuse on par with assault, homicide and arson. It’s been a long time coming, this acknowledgment that animal abuse is closely tied with violence against women, children, elders, and indeed, our whole society. Take heart–change happens.

Warning: The following opinion is just mine. It gets me in trouble but it’s a free country.

The other common statement that I hear is that someone just can’t be involved in helping because they love horses too much to look at the pictures; that hearing about it would just hurt them too much. Like somehow their love is just too pure to hear this kind of ugliness. Could you possibly think that those of us sitting in court are there because we love horses less than you do?

Do horses a favor; instead of loving them too much, love them just enough. Enough to offer help to a neighbor in need or enough to make the call to the authorities if necessary. Enough to be part of the solution. If you can’t take time off from work, then write letters to the media. Donate money, but if you don’t have a dime to spare, sign petitions, join groups, be informed. Love horses enough to bear witness. Love them enough to make positive change.

We formed Horse Advocates of Colorado, over a thousand members strong (join here), to give a voice to horses in our county.  It’s our first anniversary. We’re celebrating by going to an invitational horse welfare meeting at the sheriff’s office this morning. Don’t think for a minute that you can’t make a difference for horses.

And to everyone who has lifted their voice above the din of ranting and criticism–you are a hero to horses and to us. Thank you.

Anna Blake for Horse Advocates of Colorado.

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Courting the Legal System

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The court system is a totally different animal. Those of us used to horse behavior will be baffled again and again by what appears to be quirky and counter intuitive. Hurry up and wait seems to be the rule.

One of the goals of Horse Advocates is to become more familiar, and in a sense, make friends with this process. We must depend on our courts and the more we understand them, the better help we will be able to be for horses caught up in this process.

On August 13th, the sentencing for the Brunzell/ Dual Peppy animal cruelty case will be announced. This story started when the authorities were called September 19, 2014, to find fourteen horses dead, in various states of decomposition under tarps, and ten horses and four llamas very thin and neglected. The case came to trial May 26-29, 2015, and Brunzel was found guilty on eight counts of animal cruelty. Now, just shy of a year from the first report, the sentencing is August 13th at 10am.

For horse people, this day has been a long time coming. The surviving horses have been kept at a Humane Society facility where they are getting the care they needed so badly. They have been safe this year and most have been returned to health. Dual Peppy himself was said to be in guarded health. He is older and his condition perhaps the worst of the group. We hope for a strong judgement against Brunzell, but we are most concerned about the horse’s fate, hoping that none will be returned to Brunzell. Hoping that the horses can be released to peaceful pastures and good care for the future.

The initial outrage about this horrific discovery was cooled off. By the time the case came to court, a handful of concerned citizens attended court and a larger number people followed it on our Facebook page. We need to remember, all these months later, what happened in that barn and see this story through, for the sake of those horses involved. We hope for a huge turnout for sentencing next week.

On August 12th, a case involving Ruby Ranch Horse Rescue and an adopter, Dawn Barden will come to civil court. This case has far-reaching implications for all animal rescue organizations, but we are especially concerned for the two mini horses involved, whose health was seriously challenged. Barden signed an adoption contract promising good care and feeding for Cookie and Misty. The contract included express instruction on dental care as well as feeding, etc.  On a subsequent visit, the minis were found to be very thin, with one of them barely able to chew, as the dental work had not been done. Ruby Ranch reclaimed them, as stated in the contract. The sheriff’s office order them returned back to the neglectful home three months later, as Barden had the brand inspection. Horse Advocates is extremely concerned for these horses.

This case is somewhat different because the animals involved were previously compromised. Their health was challenged by previous poor care and as such, the promise made by rescuers and adopters to rescue animals never again be in that dangerous situation. That trust is broken; there are no second chances for an adopter who didn’t honor her promise to keep them healthy. Ruby Ranch is standing up for Cookie and Misty, while other rescues look on, concerned for their adoption process as well.

This case involves breach of contract. In the time since November there has been pre-trial maneuvering through attorneys. It’s how the system works: Barden’s attorney files motions to dismiss, claims paperwork didn’t arrive, and doesn’t respond to requests from the rescue’s attorney. Required status reports have not been filed. It costs the rescue money, and Barden as well, but most of all, these minis are in jeopardy.  It’s frustrating. Delays abound while the minis languish, until in this case finally got to the presiding judge, who waived all the pre-trial meetings and motions. The antics ended as he ordered the case to proceed and the actual trial will be August 12th and with so much riding on this case, it’s crucial that the public fill the courtroom and send a message.

It is the job of Horse Advocates, as well as the community at large, to stay focused on these cases as months pass. We can’t let the passage of time wear down our resolve. As uncomfortable as it is to remember the pain these horses suffered, we must hold our concern for the equine victims in our hearts and minds, to bear witness not just to the discovery of the cases, but to see the cases through the court system. To hold a space for the equine victims, as the humans debate the merits. And finally, to stand for them as their perpetrators are sentenced.

Information will be updated (here) on our Facebook page as soon as the final court times are posted. We hope to see a crowd at both of these court dates next week. Please make the time for these horses and join us at the courthouse. And thank you for your patience.

For Dual Peppy and his herd, and especially for little Cookie and Misty, it all comes down to court and our vigilance there is a necessary ingredient. Our response to these cases will have an impact on future cases. Please stay with us, now most of all. Let’s get these horses the justice they deserve.

Horses Trying to Survive the Legal System: Two Cases

Horse Advocates of Colorado’s goal is to be a voice for horses, especially in the legal system. We’ve been a bit quiet these last two weeks. The Dual Peppy case was a long week for us; it’s hard for horsewomen to sit inside all week and emotionally exhausting to listen to the horrible details of neglect and the excuses offered from the defense.

At the same time, there are other cases moving forward in El Paso county. One of them involves two minis named Cookie and Misty, and Ruby Ranch Horse Rescue. These two minis originally came from a hoarding/neglect situation. Misty is younger and larger; the dominant mare of the pair. Cookie is older, smaller and more passive.

When animals are adopted from a rescue, there are usually a few pages of information given about the individual animals, as well as vet information and directions for the ongoing required care. In the case of this pair, directions went past healthy management to some special ongoing dental concerns for Cookie. Adopting from any rescue also includes signing a contract, agreeing to give the care needed, allowing the rescue to check up on the animals, and reclaim them if the contract agreements are not met.

The adoption process, for horses, dogs or cats, is more involved than a simple purchase because in rescue there is a “never again” commitment. That once the animals are rescued from the initial neglectful situation and returned to health and emotional well-being, the rescue and the adopter promise that the animal will never again return to the pain and stress of neglect and cruelty. This situation is different from most cases in court because of this legal contract. The usual case is like Dual Peppy; the owners make no legal promise for care once the purchase is complete.

Last November, 2014, a welfare check was done and Cookie and Misty were in trouble. Both had lost substantial weight, promised vet work had not been done, and in Cookie’s case, she was barely able to eat and looking quite frail. Ruby Ranch reclaimed the horses, with the understanding and agreement of the adopter. Over the next three months the minis got the needed health care and were on put a refeeding program and the adopter changed her mind and wanted them back. The board of directors at Ruby Ranch declined to return them after vet findings confirmed the physical condition of the minis was as bad, probably worse, than when they first came into rescue.

In February of 2015, the Sheriff’s Department ordered Ruby Ranch to return the minis to the adopter, because the she held the brand inspection. Most rescues generally keep the brand inspection for a few months, but then send it along as the adoption is finalized, knowing that the contract is binding. In the case of Misty and Cookie, the Sheriff decided to uphold the brand inspection instead of the contract. (In other cases, they have upheld the contract.)

Again, what makes this case different is there was a signed, legal contract that was broken. And being forced to return Misty and Cookie to adopters who had not cared for them was doubly heartbreaking knowing the horse’s previous history. During the Dual Peppy case, the public outcry that the horses not be returned to Brunzell has been the most common comment, and in this case that is exactly what happened.

But rant and scream all you want. You can say the abusers deserve to go to jail forever or never be allowed to own a horse again. Sometimes an angry rant feels pretty good, but in the United States, we are bound by the order of law from both the sheriff’s office and the court system. Horse Advocates supports our legal system, as we work to improve it.

One more big difference in these two cases is the location of the animals during the court process. The Dual Peppy herd was seized and taken to a facility where they are being given the best of care, paid for by Brunzell. By the time sentencing comes in August, she will have paid over $60,000 for their care in the months the trial has gone on, and as we saw in court, the horses have really improved in weight, hoof condition and dental care. Our hope is that they not be returned but go through a rescue, like Misty and Cookie did, to have a contract and a “never again” promise. And we pray that their potential adopters will keep their word–even as we know the court may return the horses to their owner, found guilty on 8 counts of animal cruelty.

In civil court, where Ruby Ranch is working to get Misty and Cookie back, they are told it can take up to a year to get a trial date. They are faced with pointless motions to dismiss, or requests for extensions of time, both actions feeling like stall tactics from opposing counsel. The result is increased expense for the rescue, decreased ability of the rescue to continue its mission statement.

Adoption contract language is simple and easily understood. Breach of contract is clearly established by loss of weight and lack of veterinary attention in a timely manner, resulting is pain and suffering for both minis. What possible reason could be given in a court of law to defend the weight loss and neglect of the dental issues of these minis?

But these minis are not as “lucky” as the Dual Peppy horses. They will spend the time the legal system takes in the poor care of their adopter. We have had eyes on the minis very recently, describing missed feedings, lack of attention to one or both, water buckets not filled, too much dry lot time, not enough enrichment. In other words, things there have not changed.

Cookie before adoption.

There is nothing Ruby Ranch can do as Cookie and Misty languish, waiting to be rescued one more time. The sheriff’s office does not use any of these criteria as determination of the welfare of the horse. The sheriff uses criteria such as water availability, hay on the property, and whether the horses “look” healthy.

And at the time of their return, after three months of professional care at Ruby Ranch, they were both looking better…but they are on a roller coaster of care. There is deep concern for Misty and especially for Cookie, not as resilient due to age and physical condition.

Horses have rather short and fragile lives. As the court system drags on and attorneys do battle for their human clients, our concern is always for the horses involved. As the Dual Peppy horses are having some of the best care of their lives, for Cookie and Misty the time passes much too slowly, and the prime of their short lives slips away. The costs to their physical and mental condition, as well as to Ruby Ranch financially, are much too high.

We will fight in our legal system to see that legal contracts protecting animals are upheld. All rescues are watching this case with profound interest and concern for these horses and the future of rescue as a whole.

The sad part is that we, as a community of horse owners and advocates, all made a “never again” promise along with Ruby Ranch, to provide the best life possible going forward for Misty and Cookie. The fight to keep that promise will not stop.

Please encourage Ruby Ranch Horse Rescue with your supportive words and please donate to Misty and Cookie’s legal fund on the Ruby Ranch site (here).

The Sherri Brunzell/Dual Peppy Trial Begins May 26th.

DualPeppyAs I write this, we’re just over a week away from the beginning of the Sherri Brunzell/Dual Peppy trial. Remember the first news report on that Friday afternoon, September 19, 2014? A neighbor had followed her dog into the barn to find ten acutely neglected horses and another fourteen dead on the ground, in various states of decomposition. Just to be clear: more than half the herd dead, sharing the same barn as the survivors.

Then the best/worst thing happened: one of the horses was recognized from photos on the news. He was the famous stallion, Dual Peppy. The local community was outraged already, but this drew the attention of horse owners around the world. The Sheriff’s Office told the public that the situation was in hand, although no vet had been called in. The community outrage grew; untold numbers of calls and emails were sent to the Sheriff’s Office from all over the country and parts of Europe. Three days later, a vet was called in and the survivors were transported to a safe place.

I think the second reason this case inspired so many emails and calls from the public was because the scene in the barn was easy to visualize. Reports said the manure was several feet deep, skeletons were left where they fell, some partially covered by tarps. The majority of the herd was dead–some reportedly as young as 3 years old. Photos were few, but the descriptions were so ugly that people outside the horse world were inflamed as well.

These victims were well-bred Quarter Horses with an estimated worth of over 1.5 million dollars, which is not to say their lives were worth more than a backyard horse, but it was more shocking and drew extra press attention. It’s a case that could help swing public opinion on horse welfare and eventually have an impact on horses with names like Blackie and Molly; horses with no famous relatives.

When the first explanations from the owner were made public, every horse owner in the county knew the excuses were as lame as these horses who needed emergency farrier care. Brunzell’s husband admitted “she doesn’t have a regular veterinarian due to expense and ‘unsatisfactory results.'” And “She felt it would be better to spend the money on feed for the horses than on veterinary bills.”

I remind you of the details of this horrific case because eight months have passed, including one postponed trial date. Outrage dims as time passes–after all, there are new atrocities every day. But these horses still remain in Limbo–they are still waiting.

Until the case is decided, the horses (and four llamas) are under the control and care of the Colorado Humane Society. They have gained weight, had veterinary care, and overdue farrier work. They have been safe from their owner who denied them the bare essentials required and left them hidden in a barn.

Our District Attorney feels the county has a good case, but if Ms. Brunzell wins, these horses will be returned to her.

Please stay tuned to the Horse Advocates Facebook page for locations, times, and updates. We will be in court from start to finish–please join us there if you can. A full courtroom sends an important message. Watch the news reports on television and post comments or call the station. Write a letter to the newspaper articulating your thoughts on this case. Talk about this story with your friends and share posts online.

Most of all, remember the 14 good horses who did not make it out of that dreadful barn. Remember those lost, as well as those who survived; remember this crime like it happened yesterday. Join Horse Advocates of Colorado in asking for a conviction with sentencing to the full extent of the law. Speak out and be heard.

The Invitational Meeting Addressing Equine Neglect Investigations

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It was a meeting in the Sheriff’s department that we at Horse Advocates had been hoping for since before Sheriff Elder took office late last fall. It had already been postponed once and finally the day arrived. Three members of our board were there along with representation from two local horse rescues and a few local equestrian facilities. As you might imagine, law enforcement and prosecution were very well represented. There were around 25 of us, so I will spare you the list, but a strong turnout for the first meeting of this kind. I think we are all working on putting faces with names still. Sheriff Elder did drop by to greet us.

The meeting was moderated by Lieutenant J.D. Ross of the Community Impact Section at the Sheriff’s office and his opening remarks included a commitment to better, more open communication.

I’m just going to blurt out the bad news first. The biggest concern that Horse Advocate members asked us to present was the issue of the length of time and number of visits that some neglect cases take before the horses can get the help they need. The answer didn’t make us happy–there is no answer. Each individual case is different and sometimes that means letting the horses struggle longer to get past the level of misdemeanor to felony. The DA’s office has a 100% conviction rate once the case goes to trial, but horses have paid the price for that, every bit as much as investigating officers and the District Attorney’s office.  One instance in Pueblo was related: 10 years and 150 horses lost. I am sure it was meant to let us know it could be worse, but it didn’t cheer anyone in the room to hear it.

Horse Advocates had hoped to see the Sheriff’s office invite the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region to be a bigger part of the actual protocol of neglect investigations. We would like to see the highest level of training available for our first responders to neglect cases. Instead, a different solution–we were introduced to a new division, called Rural Enforcement and Outreach (REO). Right now there are three officers in this new division and they are being trained. It will be their job to be a larger presence in the eastern part of the county and as we understand it, they will deal with the neglect cases directly.

The question of why investigations don’t move faster should be helped by this division. We were told more officers and more money were required, so this is a partial answer. Horse Advocates will continue to push for a community group of professionals and volunteers to support the REO work in the county and we are forming a list of resources for these officers.

During a break in the middle of the meeting and then again just after the meeting, we had an opportunity to talk to several officers we had spoken with previously on the phone, and to a person, they were very forthright and communicative. In the past it has been very challenging to even find the number to call, but now we have cell numbers for each of the REO officers and a promise to be available.

Horse Advocates met with Sheriff Elder in January, when he assured us that horse welfare was a huge priority in his new administration. The very next day officers raided a local horse rescue and ordered two horses to be returned to the neglectors who had not kept the agreements of their adoption contract. This case is ongoing but it put a bad taste in our mouths for this new sheriff. Our local horse rescues are the heart and soul of our efforts for neglected or abused horses in El Paso County.

But yesterday at this meeting, we were able to stand eye to eye with law enforcement and speak like reasonable people. We didn’t always agree and there is a long road ahead. That’s the win–this road that did not exist when the previous sheriff was in office or before Horse Advocates had formed, is open to us now.  We have all come a very long way in a short time.

The sheriff’s office has promised to keep meeting with us and we plan to continue our push on all of our goals for the sake of the horses in our community, as well as the general safety of all of our residents. Animal abuse is the common precursor to other violence against children, elders and in domestic violence cases. When animal abusers are dealt with, our entire community is safer, and that is a goal that everyone agrees on.

In the end, Horse Advocates is right where we want to be. Please continue to contact us with your concerns and ideas. We need your help to remain a voice that speaks loud and clear: We are Horse Advocates of Colorado and we stand for horses.

Anna Blake for Horse Advocates.

Horse Politics: Livestock or Pet.

fifi 1We live in a somewhat enlightened time. Brain science has proven what some of us have always known: that animals are intelligent, have emotions, and are capable of communicating with each other and us. That’s the good news and the bad news. It blurs the line between pet and livestock.

Definitions according to Wikipedia: “A pet (or companion animal) is an animal kept primarily for a person’s company or protection…” “Livestock are domesticated animals raised in an agricultural setting to produce commodities such as food, fiber and labor.” So, dogs are pets, horses are livestock, and now things are starting to get complicated.

Some of us believe that livestock are a financial asset, that there’s no such thing as cruelty to dumb animals, and showing kindness in the barn is a sign of weakness. Drowning a litter of kittens is effortless. You do what’s necessary to make a living.

Some of us think it is cruel to even ride a horse, that no one should wear fur or leather, and that a vegan diet is the only answer. Eating an egg is tantamount to drowning a litter of kittens. There is no reason to ever enslave another species.

Humans are an adversarial species and the question of animal rights inspires a lot of defensive and extreme posturing on both sides, but most of us land somewhere in the middle ground. We eat less meat and buy organic. We vote for free range chicken eggs. A huge majority of us are against horse slaughter. There are a million other lines that we draw, but in the end, it’s political. Legally speaking, it’s a question of personal property rights vs. animal rights.

But times are changing slowly. Lots of people admit what they used to be too shy to say publicly; that they love their dogs like kids and their family includes horses and llamas and maybe some chickens. No one wants to think of themselves a fanatic, but those killer whale tanks are pretty small. Elephants at the circus aren’t as entertaining once you think about how they live.

In recent years, there’s a growing voice in the middle ground that is both personal and political. Rescues are a reasonable voice, but not always understood. Horses come to rescue for a wide range of reasons, usually not the fault of the horse or his previous owners. At first introduction to rescue, you might think that the animals should be cost-free. After all, it isn’t like anyone wanted them in the first place, and the rescue should be happy if someone wants to take them off their hands. Right?

Not so fast. To begin, there might be an auction fee or transportation costs. Add the veterinary work performed, usually a few hundred dollars–if there are no special conditions. If the animal was neglected he might need a careful re-feeding program to gain weight back and if the horse is older, maybe a beet pulp/senior feed combination with more feedings per day. Lack of hoof care might take a couple of trims to correct, with 8 weeks in between, and that’s even more feed and care. Then he might need some training to tune up his ground manners or work under saddle, so that he is more adoptable and more likely to get a good home. Once he is ready…. the wait for the right adopter begins.

Now the cost seems reasonable, less than the rescue invested in the horse probably, but paying the adoption fee isn’t the only requirement. There is an application a few pages long and a required home visit. If that’s successfully completed, then a contract, promising the horse a good home and that he will never again be treated with neglect or cruelty. By signing the contract the adopter agrees that the horse is, in effect, co-owned. That the rescue may check up at any time and reclaim the horse if the contract is not upheld.

Yikes, who wants someone looking over their shoulder forever? By now you might be thinking a horse from Craigslist would be easier. Is it okay to just call a horse a rescue if you think you are giving them a better home than the one they had before?

Rescue isn’t for everyone; it isn’t about ego and there’s no room for ulterior motives. Rescuers hold ourselves to a higher standard of care, believing that all horses deserve it. The best reason to get a rescue horse, beyond that, is because it’s a vote for a world where animals do have rights. It’s a way to say that, in between the extremes of opinion, you reasonably believe horses are more than livestock.

Adopting from a legal 501(c)(3) horse rescue is also a political choice. As time passes, laws will continue to change but that process can be hurried along by a change of consciousness at a grassroots level right now. As long as a horse is considered livestock, a rescue horse is a vote to take responsibility for the well-being of an individual horse for his natural life. It’s a safe place for a horse in transition to be protected by like-minded humans, who see the humanity of a horse–his intrinsic value, past his financial worth.

Rescue is the one place in this world that HORSES COME FIRST. A rescue horse belongs with someone who wants to make a difference in the definition of ownership, quietly start a revolution, and change the world–one horse at a time.

Anna Blake for Horse Advocates of Colorado.

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Between Patience and Procrastination: Waiting is an Action Verb.

ND mini CookieSometimes it feels like there is no comfortable place for us at Horse Advocates. It’s like cooking Thanksgiving dinner; some things are in the oven forever and some things are a last minute panic. But we don’t expect to be any more comfortable that the horses we work for.

Most cases move in slow motion. A first report gets filed and nothing happens quickly. Even in a case of clear abuse or neglect, if the horse is not in danger of eminent death, things proceed slowly. Obviously Horse Advocates is not happy with this standard, and we are trying to have a voice in redefining this process.

Then there are a few welfare checks. It isn’t hard for a neglectful owner to make enough superficial changes to satisfy the deputy and the case gets closed. Then in a month, another complaint rolls in. It’s these long-term offenders that are such a challenge. And in the process, the horses struggle quietly for way too long and tax dollars are wasted. Sometimes years pass, and for the older neglected horses, a rehab can take more time than they have left. These horses need our voice to be heard now.

Last month we saw the Brunzell/Dual Peppy court case get postponed for a few more months. When the reporter asked for a comment after, I was at a loss. I know he wants to hear something new—a good sound bite. But at a certain point, in the ongoing months between the initial discovery and the actual trial, there actually isn’t anything new. The obvious things have been said. It stops being news, which is by definition, new. Of course putting the trial back works against us. The passage of time softens most memories, even the kind of carnage involved in this case. Once the initial horror becomes familiar, it recedes in our minds. Those dead and nearly-forgotten horses continue to need our voice to be heard, now more than ever. It’s too late to save the skeletons under tarps, but it isn’t too late for justice.

At Horse Advocates, we try to be optimistic. If nothing else, mental health requires it. At the same time we remain painfully aware that El Paso county has had a bad track record when it comes to horse abuse.

Then in February, the Sheriff’s office, with the full support of the Deputy District Attorney, the same one who’s prosecuting the Brunzell case, ordered the return of two horses to a neglectful owner. The rescue they were adopted from had reclaimed them three months before, under conditions clearly stated in the adoption contract. This is a huge blow against all types of animal rescues who use a legal contract to stipulate conditions of care.

Time works against all horses. The longer they languish in neglect, the more damage is done, and the longer it takes to return them to health. There are psychological damages not even considered by the authorities. Their lives are short, and in this special case, where previously rescued horses needed rescue again, time is especially precious.

Horse Advocates is following this case with intense focus. We are deeply concerned for these at-risk horses. Beyond that, this case will set the tone for our new Sheriff’s actual commitment to horse welfare and his overall respect for animal rescue in general. We support the idea that local horse rescues, the El Paso County officials, and Horse Advocates could all be on the same side—the side of horses. For now, we watch and wait for this case to play out in our system. We are told everything takes time, but that time comes at a cost we never forget. For now, we have no choice.  We wait.

The Problem is with P words–like Patience and Procrastination. Horse Advocates is uncomfortable in either place, and so we choose Perseverance.

It’s frustrating sometimes, and boring other times. Keeping an open heart is hard in light of the suffering that horses sustain. When too much time passes, it’s hard to keep faith in a system that has failed in the past. It’s frustrating for any group who need to see a difference in a reasonable time. But if we give in to the dark side of advocacy, then aren’t we somewhat complicit in the horse’s neglect as well?

Horse Advocates won’t give up, and we hope you will continue to stand with us. The best hope we have is Perseverance; to band together committed to justice in each case, for each horse. No matter how long it takes.

Wait it out with us, will you? The horses need each of our voices.

Anna Blake for Horse Advocates.