To Greener Pastures

The horse community of Berkeley County steps up to help animals in need.

By Jonathan Vickers and Leah Cunningham | 10/18/2010

As temperatures cool and the leaves begin to change color, the devastating summer drought experienced in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia seems like a distant memory. The Berkeley County Animal Control stays busy most of the time, but over the summer the officers were faced with a situation never before experienced on such a large scale.

In early August, ninety-four dogs were seized from the Yip Yip Dog Kennel in Martinsburg after the owner failed to pay the $24,490 bond for the continued care of the dogs, and failed to appear at a scheduled hearing to determine whether authorities had probable cause to remove the dogs. In September, fifty-two malnourished horses from the Hidden Meadows Equine Rescue were seized. The horses were taken to a farm leased by the county for animal seizures, and it was only through the collaboration of the community that so many horses were able to receive the care they needed. The local Ferrier donated $1900 in services, and veterinarian bills would have cost the county thousands were it not for time donated by veterinarian Christine Bridges.

horseabuse_chart Despite donated services, this rise in animal abuse and neglect cases is putting a strain on the county budget in the area. The expense to the community is tremendous. In recent years animal control officers have seen an increase in the number of animal seizures in Berkeley County.

“We’ve done two really big seizes this year,” explained animal control officer, Erin Webber. “I think it may have a lot to do with the economy, and I am sure the drought had some affect on it.”

Animal control officer, Donna McMahan believes that stricter laws and an animal control department that is motivated to help is part of the reason for more seizures as well.

Despite the recent high-profile animal seizure cases, veterinarian, Christine Bridges believes the community as a whole is very caring toward animals.

“The horse community here – The people would take the shirt off their back to help a horse…There has been an increase in abuse cases in the past years, but not as many as you’d think. Most people would feed their horse before they fed themselves,” said Bridges.

Even the most caring individuals can find it hard to support a lot of animals when the economy slows. Webber said that many of the animals seized have come from rescue operations that were unable to maintain the proper conditions for the large number of animals they had. “People get into it because they really want to help and then when they get overwhelmed they don’t ask for help,” she said.

This is when Animal Control gets involved and can contact others who can help. Though laws have been improving, animal control officers face a variety of challenges when trying to seize animals. Typically before animals can be taken, several things must happen including the acquisition of a warrant. Simply seeing several animals that look malnourished is not enough to prove probable cause, which is necessary to acquire the warrant. In the case with the horses, McMahan actually took pictures of a horse that was malnourished two months prior to the seizure. A second visit to the horse rescue operation found the same horse in worsened condition, not better.

“I finally came to the horse I took a picture of two months prior, and I knew I had my warrant,” recalled McMahan. “It was a tremendous relief…”

The seizure of the horses from Hidden Meadows Equine Rescue came too late to save some of the horses, but the remainder have been adopted out to loving homes. Only two horses remain at the facility leased by the county, and seven of the most critical cases still remain at the Days End facility in Lisbon, Maryland.

McMahan thinks that having stricter regulation that incorporates specific requirements for animal care and regular inspections could help to prevent situations as drastic as the summer’s horse and dog seizures from happening.

“I’ve been pushing for it for a year and a half… I would love to see something passed at the state level,” explained McMahan. “Unless we have probable cause, there is nothing we can do. It should be something we can inspect.”

If you or someone you know has knowledge of any animal abuse or neglect in the area, you can call the Berkeley County Animal Control at 304-263-4729.

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    The community of Berkeley County rescued 52 horses and two cows and found homes for all of them in under three weeks.

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