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VACTF Manual: Chapter 4 - Common Complaints

Neglected Large Animals


Some of the most troublesome cases involve large animals and farm animals, such as horses, cows, goats, etc. because it is difficult to find places to keep large animals while a case proceeds through the court system.

You may receive complaints such as:

  • animals appear emaciated
  • animals are lying in a field and cannot stand up
  • horse(s) have broken from a pasture and are very thin, eating trees and shrubs

There are various causes for the neglect of large animals, such as:

  • The costs involved. When people are short of money, they often cut down on their animals' feed and veterinary care.

  • Related to this, there are cases where owners have intentionally not spent money to take care of animals (especially horses) until they were ready to breed them.

  • General ignorance. People are trying to run a farm or own horses, but do not know how to do it properly.

  • Revenge. In some cases (involving divorce), one side may try to hurt the other by not caring for the animals left behind.

Things to be aware of when investigating:

  • There is no food or grain in sight. Pasture land is chewed down.

  • Horse's stall is filled with manure build-up.

  • Animals are infested with lice and scratching at themselves to bring relief; hair may be missing in spots.

  • No clean, fresh water available.

  • No shelter available.

  • Horses' hooves may be long or turned up indicating a lack of exercise and other forms of severe neglect.

  • Animals may have sores on their bodies.

See pgs 91 and 93 of chapter 6, Animal Care Practices for Some Common Animals, "Horses" and "Cattle", for more information on indicators of neglect.

What to do

  1. Contact the Department of Agriculture to see if the standards by which the animals are being cared for fall under "accepted agricultural practices." Humane officers are required by law to contact the Department before taking any enforcement action involving livestock and poultry.

    NOTE: Title 13, Section 354 (3) (a) states that "the commissioner of agriculture, food and markets shall be consulted prior to any enforcement action brought pursuant to this chapter which involves livestock or poultry."

  2. Talk to the local humane agency or large animal rescue organization to determine if they are able to care for large animals. If they are not, ask if they can assist by coordinating a group of farmers, horse owners, or stables that might board the animals while the case is in litigation.

  3. Talk to the State's Attorney's office to see if it can assist with plans to care for the animals once they are secured.

  4. Coordinate an effort with the local humane agency and a veterinarian for the day you plan to execute the search warrant.

  5. Execute the search warrant and have the animal handling team enter the property.

  6. Take photographs of the individual animals and their environment. Take detailed photographs of any sores or injuries. (See also pg 7 of Chapter 1, Be Prepared, "Photographic Evidence" and pg 266 of Appendix IV, Fact Sheets and Articles, "Ten Top Tips for Good Photography, Videography").

  7. Have the veterinarian examine the animals and provide you with a signed statement as to the condition of the animals.

  8. Have the local humane society remove the animals from the property.

  9. Arrest the owner or issue him a citation.

IMPORTANT NOTE: In some cases, especially where many animals are involved, some animals may appear more neglected than others. Nevertheless, all the animals should be seized, if possible, because the conditions in which the animals are being kept are causing the problem. And it is usually only a matter of time before the healthier ones will be in bad shape as well.

Example 5 - Starving Horses

The Complaint
A complainant called the local humane agency and reported that numerous horses on the property of a resident were not being fed and appeared to be starving.

The humane agency had been to the same property in the recent past to investigate a complaint that the horses were not being fed. The owners had been told to worm the horses and increase their feed. The owner had agreed to cooperate at that time.

The Response

  1. Based on an interview of the complainant and the past knowledge of the cruelty investigator, the humane agency applied for a search warrant and contacted the sheriff's department. A local veterinarian was contacted to be present when the warrant was executed.

  2. The sheriff's department entered the property to execute the warrant, along with the humane society and the veterinarian.

  3. They found emaciated horses as well as two dead horses and a dead foal. There was no food or water available.

  4. The humane agency and sheriff's deputies took photographs of the animals and their surroundings.

  5. The emaciated horses were seized and taken to the animal shelter.

  6. The veterinarian examined the animals and provided a signed statement as to their condition.

  7. The owner was ordered to bury the dead horses.

Charges Brought
The individual involved was charged with 5 counts of violating Title 13, Section 352.

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