Watchdog: Investigating claims of horse abuse

Gabe Semenza

May 26, 2011 at 12:26 a.m.
Updated May 27, 2011 at 12:27 a.m.

Most every day, Lynsie Jordan drives by a 65-plus-acre pasture near the intersection of Vine and Main streets.

During the past several months, the 30-year-old noticed two of the five horses that graze here increasingly look frail and old. On Monday, she snapped a few photographs and then called police, fearful the animals are abused or neglected.

"I was just devastated by the way they looked," Jordan said.

Jordan's reaction, while sincere and understandable, highlights an important point: Just because an animal appears malnourished and forgotten does not mean it is.

Yet, the deteriorating condition of the horses raises an equally important question: When and how should owners end the lives of such an iconic animal?

For Cathy Myers, owner of one of the skinny horses, that time is now.

"We don't want him to suffer," Myers, 49, said, breaking into tears. "I am not intentionally neglecting him. I'm trying to find the most cost-efficient way to take care of him."

Her white horse, Palomo, suffers from a debilitating facial tumor that impedes the animal's ability to eat. The family paid for the tumor's removal in March, Myers said, but the cancer returned.

To help the horse regain its weight, Myers fed it supplements but to no avail. Tired of seeing it waste away, the family is making arrangements to euthanize and properly bury the animal.

The owner of the other sickly-looking equine - a 30-year-old retired race horse - declined comment for this story. Administrators of the Victoria City-County Animal Shelter say the owner has chosen to let the animal live out its last days in the pasture.

Animal control officers have since February received about 150 to 200 calls per month from concerned residents, said Heather Kern, the assistant supervisor.

Callers reported the frail appearance of the horses and suggested the animals had no food or water.

Kern inspected the horses and the pasture in February. She found that while the property near the road lacks food, the back portion teems with ample grass and a 20-acre lake that horses can easily access.

Of the two worrisome horses, she found their eyes, teeth and hooves to be in good shape. She deemed the horses were not, in fact, neglected.

Because calls are again streaming into animal control, shelter administrators contacted both horse owners again this week. During these talks, they learned about Myers' plan to euthanize her horse. They demanded the owner of the other horse to have a veterinarian examine the animal.

Kern emphasized, though, that animals often become frail as they age - just like their human counterparts do.

"We appreciate people's concerns," she said. "Understand that just because they look bad does not mean they are malnourished."

Horses in the United States seem to fall for people somewhere between a pet and a bald eagle. Not only are they loved like the family dog, they represent an iconic American way of life.

Maybe it's this mix that makes so many people upset when they see horses grow weak. This vision certainly cannot make it easier for owners who must decide when and if to pull the plug.

"That's a very personal issue that differs with every owner," Thomas Moscatelli, a Victoria veterinarian, said. "There is no perfect time. The animal has to be ready to go and the owners have to be ready to let go."

Moscatelli blames a ban on Texas horse slaughterhouses for what he says is an up-tick in horses struggling as older animals. Horse owners now have fewer end-of-life options, he said, and passersby will continue to see the ramifications play out in pastures like the one off Vine Street.

A 2007 court ruling upheld a Texas law banning horse slaughter, according to the Animal Welfare Institute.

Whether horse slaughterhouses are humane or federal law should prohibit their existence is fodder for another day. Until then, Moscatelli said you increasingly will see malnourished-looking horses.

As horses age, their livers, kidneys and teeth can fail.

"We are going to see a lot more of this because our horse population is not dwindling," the veterinarian said. "Our pastures are turning into old-age nursing homes for horses."

Gabe Semenza is the Public Service Editor for the Advocate. Comment on this story at



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