Legislation that would establish licensing and inspection regulations for equine rescues operating in West Virginia advanced when it was passed by that state's senate on March 1.
The bill, SB 540, would require rescue operators in that state to obtain a license from the state Department of Agriculture. Licensure would be contingent on inspection of both the facility and the horses located at the rescue. Licensed rescue operators would then be subject to subsequent inspections that would take place at least twice a year. County animal welfare or law enforcement personnel would carry out inspections according to guidelines developed by the West Virginia Livestock Care and Standards Board.
If the bill is passed, rescue operators who fail to meet operations and care standards could face misdemeanor criminal charges. The charges carry penalties of not less than $100 and not more than $500 for the first offense, and for a second or subsequent offense shall be fined not less than $500 and not more than $2,500.
Licensed rescues would pay an annual licensing fee of $100. Revenue from generated from the fee would be forwarded to local county animal control or Sheriffs' departments. Bill sponsor Sen. John Unger said the measure directly responds to a recent equine neglect case involving the seizure of more than 50 horses from an equine rescue operator in October 2010.
Last year Berkeley County law enforcement authorities removed 53 allegedly malnourished horses and two cows from the Hidden Meadows Equine Rescue Inc. operated by Mary O'Brien. A dead horse was also found at the property. Following the removal, some of the horses were placed under rehabilitative care within the county. Eight deemed in the most critical condition were placed at the Day's End Farm Horse Rescue in Maryland where one horse later died.
O'Brien was later charged with 56 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty. Under a plea deal, O'Brien later pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor of animal cruelty and was fined $1,000 fine and is prohibited from owning animals for five years.
Unger said the measure is intended to ensure that horses residing at rescues receive appropriate care and to discourage ineffective rescues from operating in the state.
"We're sending a message that there will be checks and balances for what rescues are doing," Unger said.
Celeita Kramer, president and executive director of the Second Wind Adoption Program, Inc. in West Union, W.Va., welcomes the measure.
"It's a good thing; West Virginia needs it," Kramer said. "I just hope the people who will be carrying out the inspections will be well educated about horse care beyond minimum standards."
SB 540 is now under study by the state House of Representatives.
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