Jackie Burke of Last Chance Ranch rescue with Otto, a gelding brought taken from a farm in Carbon County. Otto’s body condition on the Henneke Scale was zero when he arrived at Last Chance Ranch.
Early this year 16 starving horses, along with numerous sheep and goats, were removed from a farm in Carbon County, PA. Three of the horses died at a veterinary hospital; one was euthanized because it was so neurologically damaged that it could no longer stand. Two of the horses were so thin that they were rated zero on the Henneke Scale—a measurement of a horse’s body condition. A horse with a score of one is profoundly emaciated. Rescuers at the scene reported burn piles throughout the pasture, with the remains of dogs, horses and other animals piled together under pallets and old mattresses. The owner of the farm, a large animal veterinarian, faces numerous charges of animal cruelty. His veterinary license was revoked.
In March, an undernourished, nearly blind mare was found tethered inside the New Holland auction barn. The mare had been shot 130 times at close range with paint balls. A truck driver who had brought the mare to the auction for sale has been charged with animal abuse, bringing a horse without a health certificate across state lines and attempting to sell a debilitated horse. When officials at New Holland refused to put the mare, now known as Lily, through the auction because she was so debilitated, the driver returned after the auction was over, sneaked into the barn area and tied her up, abandoning her.
In January 2016 the Federal Bureau of Investigation began collecting data on animal cruelty in their National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), concluding that the National Sheriffs Association and the Animal Welfare Institute were correct about the connections between abuse of animals and crimes against humans. Those two groups had been lobbying the FBI for several years, trying to persuade them that animal cruelty should be considered a major crime, and that statistics about animal cruelty should be part of a national database. Prior to this change, incidents of animal abuse, cruelty, neglect and torture were collected in an “all other offenses” category.
Are There Patterns of Abuse?
The FBI and the groups that advocate for animal welfare believe that over time, the data collected will provide a comprehensive picture of where animal abuse is most prevalent, and who is more likely to commit abuse. The agencies submitting data about animal cruelty arrests to the NIBRS will be required to report not only the specific crimes, but also the circumstances in which the crimes were committed. Within the next five years the so-called Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) system will be replaced by the NIBRS. The UCR has been the go-to database since the days when Al Capone roamed the streets causing mayhem and committing murder.
The NIBRS database will provide a greater level of understanding. According to the FBI’s press release about this change, the difference is significant. “With summary data, all I can tell you is a crime occurred,” said Amy Blasher, who is in charge of managing the transition from UCR to NIBRS. “With the incident-based, it’s more granular. It tells the story.”
While everyone involved in this effort deserves commendation for what they are trying to achieve, the database is literally a work in progress. The FBI says that 2016 will be the first year data will be collected in which crimes against animals are provided their own space. Over the next several years, they expect the data to yield valuable information. But fewer than 30 percent of police and enforcement agencies in the United States are currently supplying data to the FBI. The reporting system is voluntary. An officer at the New Holland police department said he didn’t know of anyone who would submit data to the NIBRS. And the data eventually collected about animal abuse won’t result in any FBI investigations; it’s specifically designed to elicit patterns of animal abuse.
All Politics Are Local
The animals at the Carbon County farm, and the mare found in the sale barn in New Holland were victims of obscene, utterly shocking cruelty. They occurred here in Pennsylvania, where the safety net that should be protecting animals is held together by a dwindling force of humane police officers. These officers are employees of non-profit humane organizations, not state or municipally-funded agencies. There are not enough humane police officers, trained in proper evidence-gathering, to protect the farm animals, the domestic dogs and cats and the horses in Pennsylvania. A nationwide database of crimes against animals would probably be a powerful tool; but it would not be nearly as powerful as people speaking out and demanding legislative resources to help find solutions to animal abuse.
As for Lily, the horse that had been shot with paint balls and abandoned in the New Holland auction barn, police are still searching for the person or persons who shot her. According to Kelly Smith of Omega Horse Rescue in Airville, Lily is doing much better. “She’s gained a good bit of weight. Her teeth were so horrendous—they had been neglected—they had to take care of them in two separate days.” Smith’s organization rescued Lily and transported her to New Bolton Center. While she has had a couple of flare-ups of the uveitis that required the removal of one of her eyes, the doctors think they’ve got it under control now. “They probably could have saved her vision if whoever owned her had had her eyes treated. They were neglected,” Smith said.
Omega Horse Rescue is taking responsibility for Lily's treatment, which will likely cost thousands of dollars. Donations can be made at Omegahorserescue.com or mailed to Omega Horse Rescue, 8272 Woodbine Road, Airville, PA 17302. The 5-year-old facility takes in slaughter-bound horses and rehabilitates them for adoption. They have many horses currently up for adoption and Lily will eventually be one of them.
The SPCA is working with the Lancaster County District Attorney’s office. There is a $10,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of those involved in this case. The Lancaster County SPCA is taking those tips by phone at (717) 917-6979 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. All calls will be kept anonymous.