Pamela George, who spearheads the group’s investigations of animal cruelty, said she has received six cases of neglect in a month.
“That is just not acceptable. It’s way too many,” she said. “If we have six more horses next month, we have a serious epidemic on our hands.”
Much of the neglect stems from a lack of education, she said.
Horse owners may not realize the enormous cost, time and space commitment owning a large animal requires, George said. When an owner’s interest or finances wane, horses are often underfed or left tethered in a yard or pasture to fend for themselves.
That’s where the Lafourche Chapter of the Humane Society comes in.
George and her six-person team follow up on reports of animals being abused or neglected around the parish. Last year, their investigation led to the arrest of Cut Off resident Oris Lee Sr. after they allegedly found his two horses extremely emaciated. Lee was charged with three counts of animal cruelty.
The Humane Society works closely with the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office, George said. Investigators always go in pairs for safety to check on an animal’s welfare, but the Sheriff’s Office provides an escort for them if the situation appears dangerous. It is not unusual for owners to become angry when told that they need to take better care of their horses, George said.
“Some of them will come out and want to fight with us,” she said. “They come out all irate ... it’s a danger.”
George said she gives owners 24-hours’ notice to fix conditions. If owners refuse or do not fix the problems, the Sheriff’s Office has the option to file charges.
This month, all six of the owners investigated complied with the Humane Society’s conditions, with two choosing to surrender their horses to the group.
“They realized the money it was going to cost them; they couldn’t afford (it),” she said. “They surrendered the horse, but now we’ve got to find homes for them.”
A horse that was surrendered last month had to be euthanized after it lost too much blood from a leg injury, George said. Sometimes the animals were beyond help by the time the Humane Society gets them. The group has had to put down three horses that were confiscated from their owners, she said.
George said it is often difficult to find new homes for the horses. A large animal is harder to place than a dog or a cat, she said. The group currently has a 15-year old paint horse and a 7-year-old Tennessee Walker horse that are available for adoption.
Many people purchase a horse without realizing that it needs to be vaccinated, groomed, microchipped or tattooed and requires a lot of space to exercise and graze, George said.
Adding to the problem is the poor economy. Horses can be bought cheaply but are difficult to sell if owners realize they don’t have the space or resources for their care.
“They wind up stuck with it,” she said. “Maybe they don’t realize the cost of an animal of that size, and they try to maintain it, and they can’t. The horse loses weight, and now we’ve got a big problem on our hands.”
Veterinarian Lane Breaux with the Ridgefield Animal Hospital in Thibodaux said recent hot weather may also be playing a role in the uptick of neglect cases.
Animals that may have been surviving on little food or inadequate shelter often take a turn for the worse as temperatures rise, he said.
“If they don’t have proper food, shelter and water with the extreme heat we’ve been having, it makes it worse on them, and they might not be able to get along on their own,” Breaux said.
Some of the signs of neglect are extreme weight loss or emaciation, he said. Poor living conditions can also provide clues to an animal’s care.
“You have to provide adequate water, shelter and food, as well as routine health maintenance for horses,” he said.
Breaux said it was rare for him to have to euthanize a neglected animal. With proper care and feeding, most can be rehabilitated, he said.
Still, he urged neighbors and others who suspect abuse to contact the police or organizations like the Humane Society.
George echoed his sentiments, asking people to report what they see or get involved with the group through volunteering or donating. The organization survives entirely on donations and constantly needs food, supplies and money, she said. The group also rescues cats, dogs and other animals before putting them up for adoption.
The Humane Society does not have an official building in Lafourche Parish, although George said the group hopes to construct a no-kill shelter in the near future.
She said she also wants to create an education center that allows children to work with the animals and provides information to the public — something she hopes will slow the flood of abuse cases.
“We are swamped, truly swamped, with the cases that we’ve been getting,” she said. “It has to stop.”