Eugene, Ore. – Four ponies who endured long term neglect according to non-profit horse rescue group were reportedly surrendered voluntarily last week by a woman in Lane County, Oregon, in an area just south of the Eugene Airport. On Sunday, one of the ponies had to be euthanized and animal services has chose not to cite or refer the case to law enforcement.
While appearing to have been sufficiently fed and watered, the ponies had severe issues from what is suspected to have been multiple years without having their hooves trimmed. One of the ponies named Peanut was euthanized on Sunday, according to multiple sources and a Facebook post made by Central Oregon Equine Rescue– the non-profit organization who took in the ponies. Peanut was reported to have suffered permanent damage to his right front hoof and fetlock.
Devon Ashbridge, a spokesperson for all of Lane County government told NW Horse Report that the surrender was the result of an August 10th visit by its animal services officers following what was said to be a single complaint made by a source on August 9th. She further explained that the Lane County Animal Services (LCAS) investigator decided not to cite the ponies owner, explaining that they thought the owner had an “understandable situation” and appeared to be relieved she could get help to rehome the ponies.
“Based on the results of the investigation LCAS will not be pursuing citation nor referring the case to a law enforcement agency for criminal investigation.” said Ashbridge.
Sgt. Tom Speldrich, Public Information Officer for the Lane County Sheriff’s Office also confirmed that they were not involved in the case and that it appeared no referral had been made by LCAS personnel to investigate a crime, a decision that many people are expressing serious discontent with on social media, including on the Facebook page for the Central Oregon Equine Rescue group who has been detailing the careful work of its staff and a veterinarian to care for the ponies.
Ashbridge also stated that LCAS would not be releasing or confirming the name of the ponies owner or the location of the complaint, despite the information being considered public record. The county instead said they would only release this information upon a formal records request instead, despite releasing other information about the case which is also considered “closed”.
In addition to the location of the incident, NW Horse Report was able to independently confirm though multiple sources the ponies alleged owner as Gayle Buck, 62, of Eugene.
On Monday, NW Horse Report also requested follow-up from LCAS to see if their earlier disposition on the case had changed after having learned that one of the ponies had to be euthanized– allegedly a result of the neglect– including if they would be referring it to law enforcement.
“The owner – who had been attempting to re-home the animals on their own and whose change in circumstances and ability to care for the animals was not under their control – was immediately cooperative with LCAS, allowed access to the animals and the property, and agreed to surrender the horses so they could be placed with a rescue and eventually re-homed.” said Ashbridge in a statement to NW Horse Report on Tuesday.
Others are still either unconvinced or believe that Buck’s claims are significantly inefficient and should not relieve her of consequences. While Ashbridge confirmed that the ponies were being well fed and watered, others believed that such a fact would only further show that Buck’s neglect of the ponies was not the result of her alleged health conditions, especially since trimming of hooves can and likely would have been performed by a farrier, not Buck herself.
One individual who shared that sentiment included Darla Clark, director of Strawberry Mountain Mustangs, a non-profit rescue located in Douglas County who often is helping horses in Lane County. Clark is also no stranger to officials with the Lane County Animal Services, having been critical of their handling for nearly a decade. Clark is also a staunch supporter of Oregon’s Animal Control Council, a group who’s self described mission is, “working improve and promote professionalism within the field of animal control while exercising justice and equality in the enforcement of animal control laws.”
In 2016 the Eugene Weekly reported on increasing criticism by many citizens and rescues reporting on issues of neglect, alleging that most animal neglect and abuse is not being properly handled as criminal matters when it rises to such a level. Instead it is alleged the county tries to handle criminal neglect and abuse as an “county ordinance violation”. This despite the Oregon Legislature passing a law that increased fines and jail time for criminal animal neglect in 2013.
The Eugene Weekly also explained in a 2015 story why cases of horse and animal neglect are apparently being handled differently in Lane County.
Clark claimed that LCAS’ procedures and approach to these issues is not inline with practices seen in many other parts of the State, and when those neglecting equines are caught, they will often not only avoid any criminal referral, but they will avoid any citation. Clark and many others who have recently spoken to NW Horse Report say this is only enabling the neglect further.
Clark was far from the only person to express their dismay about LCAS, with NW Horse Report receiving countless messages from readers tipping us off to the story, as well as countless others commenting through social media. It appears for years that those in the community have expressed a lack of follow-up by LCAS to their complaints, which Ashbridge stated is about 30 per year that are directly related to equine.
This included a now former friend of Gayle Buck who spoke with NW Horse Report only on the condition of anonymity. When asked what she thought about the result of LCAS’ investigation she said, “Of course nothings going to happen, they always sweep these cases under the rug.” She also went on to say that Gayle had been in the process of being evicted and had to be out of the property just west of Eugene within the week, a claim that could not be corroborated by NW Horse Report prior to press.
Executive Director Kim Mosiman of Sound Equine Options, a Gresham based 501(c)(3) rescue organization who is a go-to for many counties and the Oregon Humane Society, explained that lack of enforcement often leads to repeat offenders because without criminal charges prosecutors cannot effect plea deals or convictions that prohibit animal ownership.
“Our goal is to help ensure neglectful owners do not make any other horses suffer in the future.” said Mosiman
Earlier today, Oregon’s special animal cruelty prosecutor Jacob Kamins explained to NW Horse Report that thee limits for sentences on the prohibition of animal ownership are often capped at 5-years under Oregon law for misdemeanor offenses and 15-years for felony charges, and can only be enforced in Oregon.
Many enforcement agencies have been cracking down with enforcement of animal abuse and neglect. In fall 2014, the FBI announced in it would begin tracking animal cruelty cases in its crime report data, as early abuse of animals is seen as a precursor to violence against people.
When sked to clarify the scope and authority of LCAS, Ashbridge also confirmed that their animal services department only has authority to enforce the county’s ordinances and cite for local violations. Officials with the Lane County Animal Services are not sworn law enforcement officers and did not have authority to investigate and take action for violations of criminal statutes for animal neglect and abuse.
Sgt. Speldrich told NW Horse Report that the complaint received on August 9th, 2022, by LCAS was originally called in to the sheriff’s office, but referred to LCAS. Speldich further confirmed that no referral from LCAS on this case has been made.
When asked if citizens could file a complaint directly with the Lane County Sheriff’s Office if they did not feel LCAS was appropriately referring clear cases of neglect, Speldrich confirmed that they could. He did however explain he could not speculate as to which complaints would still be referred back to LCAS or investigated directly by their agency.
Neither LCAS or the LCSO were willing to provide much additional info about this particular case or other cases they handle without a public records request.
As of Tuesday early afternoon, and despite repeated posts made on the groups Facebook page that have raised thousands of dollars and providing updates on the ponies conditions and care, Central Oregon Equine Rescue has not yet responded to any requests comment and information about the case, including questions regarding the efforts to care for the ponies. Attempts to reach multiple members of their board of directors directly have also been unsuccessful.
The organizations page also reported that the case was now in the hands of LCAS in response to those asking about prosecution, although NW Horse Report discovered no law enforcement investigation has been initiated nor are county officials issuing any citation.
Attempts to reach Ms. Buck for comment regarding the alleged neglect were unsuccessful.
Ashbridge also indicated that LCAS was able to assist those who were unable to care for their animals, “We also encourage people in Lane County to reach out for help if they find themselves unable to care for their horses or other large animals before the animals are in crisis. Lane County Animal Services may be able to help re-home the animals or provide connections to other resources for assistance.”