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).

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.