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TELL CITY - Perry County's commissioners were cautiously interested in an offer from the president of Indiana Horse Rescue to provide animal-control and welfare services for the county's larger animals.
As the Owensville-based equine division of the Animal Protection Coalition Inc., the organization is primarily interested in horses, but "we have had cases with swine, cows, anything your animal control can't deal with," Tony Caldwell told the commissioners.
By contract, the Perry County Animal Shelter and the animal-control officer affiliated with it work with dogs and cats. A large-animal committee was recently assembled as part of the Humane Society of Perry County, but its members opted to align itself with Indiana Horse Rescue. A June announcement at the Web site www.animalprotectioncoalition.org noted, "Monnie Sims and Jo Sodrel are just two of the dedicated people running IHR South."
The southern-Indiana group is working to ensure horses are being cared for, according to the notice announcing its formation. Those that aren't will be investigated and, where necessary, law-enforcement officials will be called upon to help.
The current economic situation is leading to stress on large animals, Caldwell said. Forty-two horses were taken from or surrendered by Perry County owners in the last year-and-a-half, he said, "and there were a lot more where someone should have interceded. Some died and others were spirited away to other counties."
He was proposing an agreement be signed allowing the nonprofit organization to provide services at no cost to the county. He will conduct investigations here until local people can be trained, he said.
"We're not trying to take everyone's horses," he said, explaining his facilities for housing them are limited. "A lot of times, education is the answer. We have provided food for people who've lost their jobs. We don't care whether people get prosecuted or not. Our job is ensuring the welfare of animals."
IHR member Pat Reed said she's been involved in that undertaking since 1995, and "it hasn't improved."
Caldwell said enforcement is the key.
"When you put up big signs about seat belts, everybody puts their seat belt on," he said. "The idea long-term is to prevent this from getting as bad as it is."
The commissioners had been provided information packets that included photos showing the extent of the problem. A woman in the audience noted that for one of the horses pictured, "you just touch it, and you had hundreds of lice on your arm."
No requirement exists to register horses, so it's impossible to quantify, but "I think the population of horse owners (in Perry County) would surprise you," Caldwell said.
Commissioners Gary Dauby and Jody Fortwendel said problems existed in past enforcement attempts because of "liability of going on someone's property."
Caldwell said state law permits that when animal abuse is suspected, if someone confiscates a horse and abuse isn't proven, they're liable only for returning the animal.
"If you can see it from a public area, it's fair game under the law for any person having the authority to impound animals, and the commissioners can authorize that," he said. "We've been sued many times and never lost."
Caldwell said he'd provide a proposed contract for the county attorney to review.