By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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Sara Penhallegon, director of the rescue center at 11900 Center Road near Quilcene, said the Sheriff’s Office called the center to a home north of Port Hadlock on Thursday to retrieve the four horses, who she said were “definitely starving,” infested with parasites and in need of thousands of dollars in veterinary care.
“They’re crawling in lice, like millions of lice,” Penhallegon said Friday.
Jefferson County Sheriff Anthony Hernandez said Alex Mintz, the county’s animal control officer, served a warrant on the home to seize the horses after receiving a tip of their condition.
Because the sheriff’s investigation is ongoing, Minz would not comment on the case nor name the person whose horses were seized.
Hernandez said he will forward suggested charges of animal cruelty or neglect to the county Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Center Valley Animal Rescue personnel expect to spend the next several months rehabilitating the horses.
The horses are now the temporary property of Jefferson County, and the county will pay the veterinary bills.
This was not the first time deputies have contacted this particular horse owner about his animals’ health, Hernandez said.
“In the past, we worked with him to get the animals out,” Hernandez said.
“Obviously in this particular situation, we felt the animals were in poor enough health we felt they needed to be seized.”
Because of the horses’ health, Hernandez said, his office could seize them without yet citing their owner.
“One of the things when you’re taking somebody’s property is you want to make sure it is absolutely necessary,” Hernandez said.
“That’s why Deputy Minz asked the judge for a warrant: to make sure we were acting with that constitutionality.”
The horses, three mares and one gelding, scored sickly low on a test of their body scale, Penhallegon said.
She and Minz weighed the animals and measured their body fat to rate their bodies on a score scale of 1 to 9.
The oldest horse, a mare about 20 years old, “would have scored 0.5” if the scale went that low, Penhallegon said.
“She just looks like a skeleton,” Penhallegon said.
Two more were rated with a 2 and the other a 3. All four are adult horses.
Healthy horses should have a body scale score of 5, said Jan Richards of Chimacum, who serves as the on-call large-animal veterinarian for the center.
The horses will need to have their teeth repaired and have multiple rounds of treatment to rid them of lice and worms, Penhallegon said.
The horses will start their rehab on a diet of bland grass hay, a low-quality dried cut intended to inject fiber through their digestive systems.
Penhallegon said their weakened systems would not tolerate rich, green hay.
Sometime next week, they will begin eating food that is easy to swallow and high in fat.
“They all have the potential of being beautiful horses,” Penhallegon said.
The horses are among some 150 animals being cared for now at the rescue center.
Penhallegon said she has seen an increase recently in the number of animals that have been turned in to the center.
Both Penhallegon and Hernandez blamed economic woes as the primary cause of neglect or abandonment.
“People just don’t have the money anymore, or they’ve lost their jobs and they can’t afford high-quality feed for their animals,” Penhallegon said.
“I don’t think it’s intentional,” Hernandez said.
“A lot of times, owners, because of the economic situation we’re in right now, they get in over their heads.”
The rescue center is a no-kill facility that provides rehabilitation for unwanted, injured or abandoned domesticated and wild animals, ranging from small animals such as dogs, cats and birds to larger animals.
Some are offered for adoption, while others are given a permanent home.
The center operates primarily on donations and uses volunteer labor.
Visiting hours are the first Friday of each month from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
To volunteer, donate or for more information, visit the center’s website at www.centervalleyanimalrescue.org, phone 360-765-0598 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at email@example.com.