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Horse Rescue Cases - A Vet's Legal Responsibility
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Horse Rescue Cases - A Vet's Legal Responsibility

-Over 200 horses found abandoned

-74 dead at a Nebraska ranch called 3-strikes

-40 horses impounded from Virginia’s New Beginnings Horse Rescue

-40 horses among 600 animals impounded in The Haven, North Carolina

These were only some of the serious and unfortunate examples of unsuccessful horse rescues enumerated by Julia Wilson, a qualified vet of the Minnesota Board of Veterinary Medicine who was a speaker at a convention organized by the American Association of Equine Practitioners in Orlando (Florida) from 3rd to 7th December.

In those cases where rescues are unsuccessful, it is vital to involve skilled veterinarians. Wilson, when making her presentation, outlined six instances where a vet may become involved and also the legal implications when handling such cases:

Client suspicion

You are on a routine visit to a farm and you observe that the horses have such long hooves that they look like elf shoes. The owner is evasive when you ask questions relating to the horses’ care. Or else you note that the only horses in sight when you get to the farm are those that look healthy; those with a body condition score of 2 are concealed in a field at the back. According to Wilson, if you think that your client has neglected to take care of his or her horses, you need to first try to have a candid conversation about it. If this does not work, see if you are required by law to report the neglect to the authorities. In addition, find out who is the right authority.

Non-client suspicion

Say, for instance, you receive a phone call from a worried volunteer who feels that a rescue owner is neglecting to take care of his or her horses. Wilson advised that even though you cannot enter the said property uninvited to verify this for yourself, you can try to drive by and check if there are noticeable signs of neglect. Alternatively, you can make a phone call to the regular vet of the rescue and voice your concerns.

Assisting law enforcement

A lot of times vets become involved in cases of horse neglect because animal control or law enforcement officials have requested them for their assistance. They may ask you to give your opinion on photographs of the affected horses or request you to examine them in person. Wilson pointed out that you should bear in mind that many states require that you have a search warrant before entering the property.

Triage impounded horses

There are a lot of things that you must bear in mind in the event that law enforcement enlists you to assist with the urgent treatment of horses that have been neglected. Wilson recommended that you need to schedule the order of treating the horses and maintain comprehensive records for each one of them. Wilson added that vet techs are very valuable here, but you must ensure they have the requisite licenses. In the event that the horses are so many that you cannot cope, you may need to recruit other vets from another state (who must have temporary licenses or an emergency waiver in order to operate in your state). You can also get assistance from nonprofit organizations like the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.


Even after the horses are impounded and their urgent health problems sorted, they still require extra care. You may be asked to make decisions regarding their veterinary care. According to Wilson, examples of such requests include carcass disposal, euthanasia documentation and decisions, contagious disease identification and so on. Once more, maintain exhaustive records and take photographs. Because of confidentiality and legal reasons, restrict your interviews with the media at this time.

Giving testimony as an expert witness

Finally, vets frequently play important roles as expert witnesses during prosecution of court cases. Wilson recommends that you need to listen to the advice of the attorney when making preparations to give a court testimony.

Even before you get entangled in a rescue case through one of these avenues, acquaint yourself with regional and state legalities. Wilson summarized by noting that the decision to take part must include an analysis of the state laws that define neglect, abuse, cruelty and also the vet's roles to investigate, report, assist law enforcement and provide triage medical care and treatment.

Image credit: source.colostate.edu

Disclaimer: Of Horse! and sponsors do not endorse nor validate the accuracy of a blog post. Each article is the opinion of the blogger.

More about horse, 2018, 2017, news, neglect, vet, legal

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