Heavy rein: Horse cruelty cases in Jefferson Parish



Meet Promise.


Promise was rescued in 2010 with "one foot in death's grave," says veterinarian Allison Barca. She's now a healthy weight and living happily in Jefferson Parish's care.

In this week's cover story, I look at how Jefferson Parish is handling cases of horse neglect on the West Bank. In urban environments like New Orleans, animal welfare organizations often deal with huge numbers of dog and cat cases — from abused or abandoned pets to spay-and-neuter operations. Horses throw a completely different wrench into these groups' already straining budgets.

Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter (JPAS) divides its operations on the East and West banks. The shelter has six animal control officers and one humane officer, who works primarily with cruelty cases. The officers work 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., in shifts, covering both banks. They also respond to emergencies at all hours. It's the more rural West Bank that poses a problem. Horses aren't necessarily in your neighbor's backyard — along Highway 90, for instance, there are makeshift "barns," open fields and secluded grassy areas and pastures. It's the last stretch of the parish before St. Charles Parish comes into view. JPAS has a Westwego outpost, but there are cut-off stables beyond there.

From July 2010 to July 2011, the shelter, aided by ASPCA consultant Kim Staton, spent hundreds of hours on horse cases and seized 12 — seemingly a small number, but the budget-tight parish has cared for 12 horses that desperately needed thousands of dollars in veterinary care, as well as transportation, feed and housing. JPAS does not own stables. Even LA/SPCA, which covers the New Orleans metro area, has limited stable space, despite a massive case in 2007-2009 that seized 31 horses from an Algiers property. Two horses were found dead.

Kim Staton with Promise, July 2011

Seizures are the very last thing an agency wants to do. What precedes a seizure — that is, possession under the parish — are talks with owners and follow-up "courtesy stops," unless the horses are in desperate need of care. Then the parish will intervene. The horse case trail started last year, when the JPAS seized three horses and a rail-thin foal in Waggaman.

This year, the parish seized another five horses in June alone. JPAS did several barn sweeps across the West Bank, and code enforcement issued several code violations. JPAS begins East Bank sweeps this month.

Staton has led the charge. She leaves JPAS on August 13. Her contract was originally designed for a few months' of consultant work — back in 2009. She trained a humane officer to pick up where she'll leave off, working primarily on cruelty cases.

Barca, a veterinarian who works with the parish on cruelty cases, says these instances of abuse are nothing new. "There has always been a problem in our area where people tend to own more horses than they can afford to keep," she says. "That’s it in a nutshell. And they have varying opinions on how skinny a horse is allowed to be, and what the definition of a clean stall is."

Horses are popular for parade season, among other reasons, and they're inexpensive — Jeff Dorson, director of Humane Society of Louisiana, says the state has a "surplus" of horses (though Staton disagrees with the term). "You can go to a sale barn and take a horse for as little as $25. They’re almost giving them away," Dorson says.

Horse owners, he says, often are not aware of the thousands of dollars a year required to keep a horse healthy, well-fed and vaccinated. More rural areas on the state, Dorson says, are worse off. (Consider this case in Lafourche, from earlier this year.)

Adoptions fees for horses in Jefferson Parish begin at $10. For more information about adoption procedures and applications, visit the JPAS website.

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