Friday, February 12, 2010

Sheriff’s Office looks into animal protection

Training session helps identify signs of horse abuse

Express Staff Writer

A local activist group would like to see all the horses in the Wood River Valley as healthy and well fed as these.

A dozen members of the Blaine County Sheriff''s Office joined an in-depth training session Tuesday on how to deal with animal cruelty allegations. The main focus of the workshop was on horses.

Bellevue-based Silent Voices Equine Rescue and Blaine County Chief Deputy Gene Ramsey helped set up a workshop between the Sheriff's Office, the Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney's Office and representatives from the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.

Also in attendance at the Sheriff's Office in Hailey were representatives from the Humane Society, the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley and Happy Trails, a horse adoption organization based in Victor, Idaho.

Leading the session was Dr. Tom Williams, a veterinary medical officer with the Department of Agriculture.

The training included a presentation on how to evaluate a horse's "body condition score," which is an important step in determining if a horse is malnourished.

However, Williams made a point of noting that a quick look would not be enough for a correct judgement.

"Just because a horse is thin doesn't mean it's being abused," Williams said to the approximately 30 people assembled at the Sheriff's Office.

Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling said after the workshop that the training would help his officers treat animal abuse allegations "just like any other case or investigation."

"It allows them to make a decision if we need to bring in a veterinarian or someone from the Department of Agriculture," Femling said. "If it seems to us like there's neglect going on or probable cause to believe the animals are being abused, that would be the trigger point to reach out to other experts."

The Sheriff's Office can then make a decision on whether to pass the case on to the county prosecutor.

Williams said that prosecution was not the preferred outcome, however.

"The last thing we want to do is take animals away from their owner," Williams said. "We really want to train people to take better care of their animals."

Silent Voices was largely responsible for the training session, having spent the past few years concerned about the lack of feeding of three horses south of Bellevue.

The group held a meeting in August with county and state officials to discuss the appropriate procedure for reporting abuse.

At the meeting Tuesday, Bellevue resident and horse owner Randy Johnson expressed irritation at the fact that someone called the Sheriff's Office to complain that he was starving his horses when, in reality, he has one 29-year-old horse that is simply skinny.

Johnson said he thought it would have been more appropriate if the concerned person had knocked on his door and inquired about the situation rather than calling the police.

Doro Lohmann, co-founder of Silent Voices, agreed with Johnson and said that the organization could play an important role in communicating with horse owners.

"We know horses and think we can help if people call us," Lohmann said.

Jon Duval:

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