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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Animal cruelty definition debated

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The almost 2-month-old foal stares curiously at the camera while the older horses gather around a round bale located in a pasture owned by Lisa Maggard and Travis Rawlins near the Sharp County line. Rawlins and Maggard said they feed each horse almost 24 pounds of feed a day to try and keep the horses weight up. Photo by Terrah Baker
Out of the hundreds of cases of animal cruelty tried each year in Arkansas, the accused who plead innocent are more than half, according to the United States Humane Society's Web site. There is an ever prevalent difference in opinion about what constitutes animal cruelty, and a case in Fulton County near Ash Flat displays the confusion that occurs when victims can't speak for themselves.

Lisa Maggard and Travis Rawlins own six horses and a foal, all with varying circumstance and age. The week of May 15, Rawlins received a citation of animal cruelty for six of these seven animals.

"I contacted officer Rhonda Long (of the Fulton County Sheriff's Office), and she told me she couldn't believe that I would let my horses get in the shape they were in. She said she had pictures and people were upset about what we had done to the horses ... she told me they are all under weight," Rawlins explained. "She then said, 'Well I guess I'll give you the citation.' When I said, 'A citation for what?' she told me for cruelty to animals."

Deputy Long was unable to comment about the case, but said when she investigated the call of neglect she found a situation where horses had no hay, grain, water or grass for grazing and the neglect was obvious in the horses' visible signs of emaciation.

Rawlins and Maggard said they strongly disagree with this accusation, but Shorlyn Morris of the private rescue group, Doing Only Good Rescue, and who originally received a phone call concerning the animals, said she is only acting in concern for the horses.

"I talked to (Maggard and Rawlins) with my individual rescuer capacity which gives me the right to investigate animal cruelty," Morris said. "You have every right to report an animal in imminent danger."

According to the Arkansas Code concerning cruelty to animals, "any officer, agent, or member of a society which is incorporated for the prevention of cruelty to animals may lawfully interfere to prevent the perpetration of any act of cruelty upon any animal in his presence," and that citizens can go as far as feed an animal on someone else's property if they see it without sufficient food or water for more than 12 hours.

Although Morris couldn't comment about the ongoing case, she said there were multiple signs that led her to believe neglect was present and ultimately turn the case over to the Fulton County Sheriff's Office.

"What feces I could find had no signs of hay or grain. If it's hard to find feces with seven horses in the pasture you know there's a problem," Morris said.

Rawlins and Maggard said the thought of someone accusing them of animal cruelty has led them to a state of disbelief mainly because they have been aware of the weight loss and say they are doing what they can to stop it.

"We feed them every morning and every night and we have a spring fed pond in our pasture. My black and white paint dropped her foal April 25 and horses are expected to lose weight after having a baby, it takes a little bit of time for their systems to readjust. Once she started losing more and more weight, we started to get worried," Maggard said.

"We've fed them weight gainer; we've used other people's advice. One of the original owners of the paints said we should try rice meal. We're trying everything that we can possibly do," Rawlins added.

Maggard said she has receipts to prove their personal attempts, but since she bought the property where the horses are currently located, she has had nothing but problems.

"Our cattle have been let out, our horses have been let out, I've had $3,000 worth of tack stolen out of this house. We smell chemicals on our pond and our pond is red," Maggard explained.

One officer from Sharp County informed Maggard that if she can prove her water is being poisoned then she would be a victim and not a criminal, but Maggard said she has no way of doing that.

"They won't test my water. I can't get the health department to test my water either," Maggard said.

The horses roaming in Maggard's and Rawlins' seven acre, sectioned-off pasture are obviously thin, but how thin is too thin? While some say six horses with visible ribs and back bones is a serious problem, Veterinarian George Ingram of Spring River Veterinarian Clinic for large animals, said all but two of the horses are at an acceptable weight.

"I'd give these horses a three based on the weight scale that I use. One means the animal absolutely cannot stand up, two is the animal is walking around, three means you can visibly see the ribs, four is normal coverage but you can still feel the ribs," Ingram said.

Although it may seem surprising and even shocking to many, Dr. Ingram said that many people strive to keep themselves at a two.

"It's been proven that people who are thinner live longer. Someone who is skinny where you lift their shirt and you can see their ribs will be more likely to live to be 80 or 90 as opposed to heavier people," Ingram said.

Maggard explained that one of the horses that is seriously underweight is a 26-year-old mare and the other is a 3-year-old who is losing and gaining teeth which to her may explain the low weight.

Rawlins, who received the citation, is scheduled to be in court on June 11 to plead guilty or innocent to his accused crime of cruelty to animals, and Officer Rhonda Long said that now it's up to a judge to define what constitutes cruelty to animals.

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