Daily photo by Gary Lloyd|
Twiggy, a neglected, malnourished horse rescued by Lawrence County Animal Control Officer Carolyn Atchison last week, gets a bite to eat at the animal shelter next to Atchison's home north of Moulton. Atchison named the horse Twiggy after the iconic '60s model known for her extreme thinness.
Starving horses' owners can only be charged with a misdemeanor
By Kristen Bishop
MOULTON — According to state law, the owners of four starving horses rescued by the Lawrence County animal control officer last week can be charged only with a misdemeanor.
After months of following up tips from anonymous callers, Carolyn Atchison said, she was finally able to track down and save the four horses.
Lawrence County Sheriff's Department Investigator Lt. Mark Richards said he is gathering evidence and veterinarian reports before charging the owners with animal cruelty, but regrets that their maximum penalty if convicted is only up to one year in jail. He declined to identify the owners.
"The sad thing is that we can only charge them with a Class B misdemeanor," said Richards. "The felony animal-cruelty law only pertains to dogs and cats. Cruelty to a cow, horse or any other animal is considered a lesser offense."
Horse named for thin model
Richards said he accompanied Atchison when she found the first horse, which Atchison named Twiggy after the iconic '60s supermodel known for her extreme thinness. Atchison said she had "never seen anything that skinny before except that girl."
Twiggy, a 2-year-old Arabian horse, weighs about 287 pounds. Atchison said she should weigh more than 800 pounds at her age.
"(The horse) was extremely malnutritioned, in very poor condition," said Richards. "Skin was falling off her back, her neck was thin — not much more round than a human head — and you could see her hips."
Atchison said she received the first report about starving horses in February. At the time, there were more than 15 horses.
"We went to the property to check on them but made the mistake of going out in a marked county vehicle," she said. "(The owners) knew what was up and moved the horses where we couldn't find them when we returned."
When an anonymous caller reported malnourished horses at Lawrence County 170 and Lawrence County 309 on Nov. 24, Atchison said, she didn't know the horses were from the same group she had tried to rescue in March.
"When we got there on Monday (Nov. 27), I noticed a gray horse that was one from the same bunch we'd been trailing," she said.
Atchison wasn't able to get a seize warrant until the following day. By the time she returned, the horses were gone.
"We started circling around different properties on Tuesday," she said. "We knew who was moving them and finally found Twiggy, who had been moved to (Lawrence County) 214. She had been tied to a shed and literally left to die."
With a tip from a Morgan County resident, Atchison was able to round up three other horses off Alabama 24 on Friday. She said the rest of the initial group has likely either died from malnutrition or been shot by the owners.
"We've had calls from sources that I know to be credible that said three of the horses died weeks ago, another one died five days ago, and two had been shot the day we found Twiggy," said Atchison.
She said the owners have more horses that she will continue to monitor.
A veterinarian has checked each of the rescued horses and prescribed vitamins and an eating regimen. Atchison said Twiggy was in the worst shape when she was rescued and is being kept in a paddock away from the other horses.
"The vet said we can't allow her to graze all day because she's in such bad condition that she'll eat herself sick," she said. "Right now she's eating about half a bale (of hay) three times a day."
Atchison has spent more than $250 to buy hay and other food for the horses and is asking residents for donations.
Melanie MacDonald, owner of MacDonald Farms, delivered five bales of hay and two barrels of food pellets Monday. She said she has rescued several stray horses and urged pet owners to spay or neuter their pets.
"People overbreed horses just like they overbreed cats and dogs," she said. "If you're not going to take care of them, don't have them, and if you don't want more, neuter them."
Jerry Campbell, former president of the Lawrence County Cattlemen's Association, donated 40 bales of hay Monday afternoon.
"According to my calculations, it takes a bale per day to feed three horses," said Atchison. "When I have my pasture in March, I can send them out there to graze, but I have to be able to feed them till then."
Atchison said anybody who would like to make a donation can call her at 974-9442.
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