ROSEBURG, Ore. -- Some horses seized from Brookings are recovering and getting treatment in a Roseburg area rescue facility, and the owner of that rescue is pressing for tougher legislation on animal neglect cases.
According to the Curry County Sheriff's office, a landowner in Brookings reported on January 19, that 10 neglected horses had been left on his property.
Authorities say the horses were kept in small pens for about three months, that were thick with mud and feces. Officials say the horses were so hungry they were eating dirt and bark off of trees to stay alive. Lt. John Ward of the Curry County Sheriff's office told KPIC News on Tuesday about the first time he saw the horses living conditions. "I was appalled at the conditions," Ward said. "The mud and manure and urine was so thick, that the horses were having a hard time even walking, and were getting stuck."
After being examined, authorities say the horses were found to be severely neglected and in need of medical treatment.
On January 21, Sheriff's deputies and volunteers took the horses into protective custody. One of the horses had died and one was too injured to move, but the remaining horses were taken to Strawberry Mountain Mustangs in Douglas County for treatment.
The owner of the horses, Michael Ray Perry, 49, was arrested and charged by deputies with 10 counts of second degree animal neglect and one count of first degree animal neglect. He was lodged in the Curry County Jail.
Authorities say a check of Perry's record shows that he was convicted of second degree animal neglect last December in Deschutes County, related to neglect of a horse. It is not yet known whether these are any of the same horses that were involved in the Deschutes County case.
Lt. Ward says Perry is out of jail awaiting a hearing, and a condition of his release is that he cannot have contact with horses.
Darla Clark, the owner of Strawberry Mountain Mustangs, is not only caring for the horses, but is working on legislation that would help prevent repeat offenders from being able to own horses.
As it stands, Oregon law classifies animal neglect as a misdemeanor. Clark and Douglas County's lone Animal Control Deputy, Lee Bartholomew, are hoping to change that.
The way the law is written now, if someone is convicted of animal neglect in one county, officials say there is no law preventing them from moving to a different county and owning the same type of animal.
Bartholomew, who is also the Vice President of Legislation for the Oregon Animal Control Council, says there is also another problem: If someone is convicted of animal neglect, they are prohibited from owning domestic animals for a certain period of time. Horses are not classified as domestic animals under Oregon law. "If someone is convicted of neglecting a horse, they would be banned from owning dogs or cats for five years," Clark said, "but they can go and purchase a horse the next day because it is livestock."
Bartholomew pointed out another famous Douglas County horse abuse case, that of Grace, who was found to be starved by her owners in 2010. Teresa Ann Dicke, 50, Linda Fessenden, 49, were convicted on animal abuse and neglect charges, but Bartholomew says the way the law reads now, they could have went out and bought another horse. Domestic animals include cats and dogs, and horses fall under livestock.
Clark pointed out another problem, in that some rural counties are having such a funding problem, that some of them won't prosecute misdemeanors.
Bartholomew and Clark, along with the help of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, are working on legislation that would change the level of crime, along with changes to sentencing for people convicted.
One of the things they are putting into the legislation is a provision that would close the loophole regarding domestic animals and livestock. If the new legislation goes through, sentencing guidelines would require a ban on owning not only domestic animals, but livestock or exotic animals. Bartholomew says they also wrote a provision that the ban would include whatever type of specific animal the person was convicted of neglecting or abusing.
The legislation would also elevate the neglect to a felony if a person has already been convicted. Bartholomew says someone could be charged with a felony on the first offense if there are factors like a large number of animals, or the abuse occurs when a minor is present.
Clark says that if passed, Oregon would have the first statute of this type in the nation.
She says the laws are drafted, and is hopeful that Senator Floyd Prozanski will be presenting it in the coming weeks.
Bartholomew told KPIC News that he thinks the legislation has a good chance of passing. He says one of the most important things that is included, is the provision about neglect and abuse in front of minors. He says often times if children are exposed to animal neglect and abuse, they sometimes grow up and do the same things to animals that they were taught as children.
Lt. Ward says he hopes the legislation passes, and soon. "I think it's a long time coming, and if you're going to own any animal, it should be treated the same."
How are the horses now?
The horse left behind in Curry County is being visited by a farrier on Tuesday, and has been scheduled for surgery to try and repair his severely injured leg. Lt. Ward of CCSO says he is hopeful the horse will be able to walk again after the surgery.
As for the eight horses at Strawberry Mountain, Clark says they are showing improvement.
She says some of them are already showing weight gain.
Some of the horses are getting treatments and medications for the skin problems, and some of them are healing nicely, according to Clark.
Most of the horses are mares that they think are pregnant, so they will need to be placed in foster homes so they can give birth in a quiet environment.
Clark expects all of the horses to make a full recovery. She says she is frustrated at the fact that all the horses needed was, "a little food in front of them, and basic care."
How you can help:
Clark says the bills to take care of the animals are racking up. Strawberry Mountain Mustangs is currently housing about 20 horses, although they also are responsible for horses that are staying at foster homes around the state.
She says the best way to help offset the costs are to donate to the non-profit organization.
If you want to keep track of all nine of the horses and donate to their specific care, you can visit the 'Curry County Horse Seizure' Facebook page.
To donate directly to Strawberry Mountain Mustangs, you can visit their Web site or send your donation to:
Strawberry Mountain Mustangs
PO Box 2133