I had the opportunity last month to testify for King County in the animal abuse case against Jake Rider–nearly two years after we took in three of 24 animals that Rider had starved and neglected. The case lasted for several days; however, in the end, Jake Rider was found guilty on one Charge of First Degree Animal Cruelty and ten charges of Second Degree Animal Cruelty. A bittersweet end.
Bittersweet you ask? Yes, bittersweet. Animal rescue groups and activists such as Pasado’s Safe Haven, who played such a vital role in the Jake Rider case, have fought vigilantly for years to enable Animal Control officers through the court system against men like Jake Rider. The laws were finally changed in July 2007 when horses and livestock could be seized due to visible signs of neglect in addition to the failure to provide food or water on the property.
Unfortunately, seizing the animal is only the first step on the road to justice. Next stop? Convincing the Prosecuting Attorneys to actually prosecute; a whole different challenge unto itself as they face the juggling of a full docket of cases against the likelihood of winning and ultimately achieving retribution . Too often, with ambiguous laws and no historical case records, the animal abuse charges were thrown out or pled down to lesser charges to avoid trial.
And now, now that we are finally seeing the results of our efforts and patience, the despressed economy and mandatory state and county budget cuts have made it virtually impossible for Animal Control to continue to seize horses and press charges in order to keep that docket full. It so often feels like a particularly vicious circle, as we relentlessly take two steps forward to every step back.
I am continually asked what I think the solution to this problem is. How can People Helping Horses help to rectify the plight of the equine? I’ve been fortunate over the last few months to have the opportunity to speak candidly and intimately with well respected clinicians and horse people in the industry regarding this exact situation, including Ken McNabb and Lynn Palm. While we all have opinions, some similar and some very different, it is hard to nail down a concrete solution; there’s not just one question that needs to be addressed, but many.
I do know that we have to look at the problem as a whole, not just piece by piece; we didn’t get here today as the consequence of one decision or action, and I highly doubt that we will rectify it with one answer. It is going to take the passion, dedication, and tenacity of individuals, professional associations, corporations, and government: all working together towards a common goal to ensure that the magnificent animal we call the horse can live a quality, healthy life safe from abuse, neglect, and abandonment.
In the weeks and months to follow, I will share my thoughts and opinions on the questions we as horse lovers and professionals face; hopefully through reflection on these issues, the path to a brighter future will become clear.
-Gretchen Salstrom, Founder & Executive Director, PHH