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Horses Ignite Neighborhood Passion

COARSEGOLD – A group of Coarsegold residents sounded the alarm last week with Madera County Animal Services in what they say is an effort to save a group of horses from inhumane conditions.

Neighbors who live in the area where the five horses have been pastured are concerned that the animals are being neglected and not fed regularly by the owner, who doesn’t live on the property.

Coarsegold resident Bridgette Russell, who lives near the property, says she has been around horses all her life and that the condition of the horses has deteriorated rapidly as the weather has grown colder, to the point where she and others have contacted Madera County Animal Services on numerous occasions.

“At first, in the summer, there was a lot of pasture for the horses to graze on,” Russell explained. “Now the pasture is basically down to dirt and the owner hasn’t been feeding the horses on a regular basis,” says Russell who recommends that horses be fed twice a day when temperatures drop in the winter. “I talked to neighbors, and one of them purchased hay and fed the horses. We’ve tried to get messages to the owner but his phone is disconnected.”

While out walking on Christmas day, Russell said she noticed the once-healthy bay mare had taken a serious and rapid turn for the worse, and noted that photos taken last week by horse trainer and breeder Ursa, show the mare was reduced to nearly skin and bones.

On Friday, Dec. 27, after repeated calls from concerned neighbors to both Animal Services and local law enforcement, authorities arrived on the scene in Coarsegold to assess the situation.

According to Russell, the horses’ owner said the bay mare needed one-on-one attention and he was taking her to another location. The mare was being taken to the trailer when she collapsed to the ground and could not get up. The owner then made the decision to euthanize the animal and it was dispatched with a gun.

The owner of the property where the horses are kept told KMPH Channel 26 that the animals have been there for 2 1/2 years, and there has never been a problem with the owner feeding them. When the KMPH news crew went to the horse owner’s home to get his side of the story, they report that he declined to comment and called the Sheriff’s Office on them.

Another neighbor feels that the mare was just very old, and that what happened was just the natural course of events.

Kristen Gross is Director of Madera County Animal Services. She confirmed that an officer from Animal Services had been on the scene in Coarsegold to assess the horses’ situation, and that the officer was present when the bay mare was dispatched.

“They are coming back on January 4th to assess the situation,” Gross reports. “Officers tried to find a local vet but none was available. The sheriff’s deputy declined to dispatch the horse, but the animal’s owner was within his legal rights to do so, as long as it was done humanely.”

Reports by neighbors say the animal’s owner later proceeded to cut and manipulate the horse in order to physically get it in the trailer so he could later dispose of the remains.

Gross confirms that it was within the owner’s right and responsibility to move the dead horse, even if that means using a sharp instrument to manipulate the carcass for transfer.

“He has an obligation and is responsible for his property, and horses are considered property.”

Two horses in field - photo by Ursa StearnsOnce contact has been established between Animal Services and an animal owner and follow up is deemed necessary, Gross says officers then formulate a plan to remedy the situation.

“They make a game plan with recommendations and follow up,” says Gross.”Sometimes a vet is called in to see if there are underlying conditions. We get a lot of calls about people not feeding horses when winter comes; older horses decline quickly.”

Animal Services has four officers to cover approximately 2,000 square miles of jurisdiction, according to Gross, herself an animal lover with a menagerie including eight horses, plus dogs and cats. She says all the Animal Services officers are animal lovers, and agrees that abuse or neglect is painful to see.

With only four officers, Gross says the department needs the extra eyes and ears of public reporting to address the problems properly. Witness or victim statements in writing are especially helpful, and Gross says emails can be sent to her directly for those who want to file a report.

“There are lots of horses being watched by staff,” says Gross, “but that’s only one component of what the officers do. They pick up strays, dead animals, handle calls on vicious animals and those which result in quarantine.”

Following a report of abuse or neglect, says the director, “there can be citations and court. Animals can be taken away or other consequences can occur. In bad cases animals are seized. “

At any given time, Madera County Animal Services may have between 30 and 40 open horse cases, each with one or more horses. In addition, the department gets between 20 and 40 new calls every day for a variety of services.

“We are animal advocates who want animals to stay safe and healthy. They need the basic requirements of food, water and shelter. If animals are mistreated or if the minimal standard of care including feed is not met, owners need to find a new home for their animals.”

On that subject, Animal Services and neighbors around the Coarsegold property agree. Meanwhile, Bridgette Russell is extremely concerned for the health and safety of the remaining horses.

“The owner still has those other four horses there and Animal Services is not coming out until January 4. I want Animal Services to take them away. I don’t want the last four of them to have to be treated inhumanely. I don’t think he knows the extent of the consequences of his action. I would hope that what the horses’ owner had to do to that bay has some type of impact on him.”

Russell plans to keep in touch with Animal Services to ensure the horses are taken care of. “I am going to call once a week. I just want something done and I want those animals to not suffer.” Russell hopes that all the media attention will insure that the owner takes proper care of the animals.

The owner of the horses could not be reached for comment.

For more information or to file a victim or witness report with Madera County Animal Services, call 559-675-7891 or email Director Kristen Gross at kgross@madera-county.com

Bay mare casted close up of skin and bones

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