Sunday, April 5, 2009

Texas from a Texan Rescue Worker

I am having a guest post from Jennifer Williams of Blue Bonnet rescue for this weeks post. Not only is it a great honor and pleasure to have such a respected and experienced horse rescue expert on my blog, but both my computers are crashing and I have no word processing abilities at all right now. You think my posts are scary now, you should see them if I try to post without going through Word first.I will be lucky if I can get this posted at all and boy is my tech guy gonna be busy tomorrow!

"In general, when law enforcement officers (sheriff’s deputies, policemen, animal control officers or livestock officers) seize horses in Texas, they do so under the Texas Health and Safety Code, Title 10. Health and Safety of Animals, Chapter 821. Treatment and Disposition of Animals. They must obtain a warrant from the courts to seize the horses, and there must be a hearing within 10 calendar days of the warrant to determine whether or not the horses were “cruelly treated”. If a judge or justice of the peace finds that the horses were cruelly treated, he can order them euthanized, send them to auction or give them to a non-profit animal welfare group. If the judge orders the animals euthanized or given to a non-profit, the owner cannot appeal. After the civil hearing, the county or district attorney’s office may also decide to press criminal charges under the Texas Penal Code.

As a rescuer, this set-up has advantages. In some cases, we work with law enforcement officers to investigate reports of neglect or abuse. When we find neglected horses, the officers obtain the warrants and we go with them to pick the horses up, document their condition, obtain a veterinary report and veterinary care, and prepare for court. We provide testimony in court, and I can provide expert testimony as a Ph.D. Animal Scientist and Certified Humane Investigator. Other times, law enforcement officers investigate the report of neglect or abuse, get the warrant, seize the animals and go to court. They call us only after the horses have been awarded to us.

The benefit of the civil code is that a) the hearing must be held within 10 days of the warrant and b) there are no appeals if the horses are awarded to a non-profit rescue. This means as a rescue we don’t end up stuck holding horses for court for months. And once the horses are awarded to us, we can get the males gelded and begin adopting out the horses without fear that the owner will appeal and we’ll be stuck holding the horses for months or even years. It allows us to move the horses on into adoptive homes more quickly so we can free up space to help more horses.

When I began first working on neglect cases in 2000, the counties rarely pressed criminal charges. They seemed to feel that the owners suffered enough by losing their horses. However in the past several years, I’ve seen an increased willingness to press criminal charges, and I’ve seen more people convicted of animal abuse. That allows us to better track repeat offenders – its hard to tell if someone is a repeat offender if they lose their horses but have no criminal record.

There are drawbacks to working in rescue in Texas. Many counties still don’t consider horse neglect to be a serious issue and are unwilling to spend manpower or money investigating neglect reports, seizing horses or presenting cases to the courts. However, this is slowly changing.

While currently the law does not allow for an appeal if horses are awarded to a nonprofit welfare group, House Bill 1046 would allow owners to appeal. This will make it much harder for animal welfare organizations to assist with seizures as they could be stuck holding horses for months, or even years, as the owners appeal. Many counties will be unwilling to seize horses and other animals as they will not want to be forced to pay the expenses of animals being held for an extended period of time. Rescues will be forced to turn away neglect cases horses as they will soon fill up and have no more space.

Texas residents, please contact your state representative and ask him to vote against this bill. Lets not make it any harder for animals to get help in Texas."