Tom Thomas, president of Back Country Horsemen of North Carolina, spoke on behalf of his organization and the North Carolina Horse Council. He requested that the commissioners delay putting the recent amendments to the animal control ordinance into effect for sixty days in order to consult with experts in the field. He noted horses are defined by state law as livestock, not companion animals. He cautioned the commissioners were stepping on a slippery slope. He suggested owners of cattle, llamas, and goats might be on alert wondering what kinds of arbitrary rules the commissioners would make up for their livestock. He assured the commissioners he cares very much for horses, and it is in his best interest to keep his animals in good shape. The people who would be enforcing the ordinance would not share the enthusiasm and expertise he and his peers have for the welfare of their animals.
Sue Gray, executive director of the NC Horse Council was well-spoken. She left the commissioners a written outline of objections to the new amendments the council strongly opposes. The council’s standards for care and management of horses say nothing about horses needing a three-sided, manmade shelter. “I have thirty on my personal farm, with covers out in the outlying pastures. And in ten years, I’ve seen one horse enter that cover, and that was only because I dropped some sweet feed.” She said the commissioners did not need to conduct additional research. They need only consider the five herd of Corolla horses that have run wild for years in the Outer Banks.
The ordinance was likely to work against the good intentions of its writers, she continued. Raising equine is a $2 billion industry in the state. Tryon just invested in a huge horse center, but the ordinance would oppose its efforts to attract horse shows. Over 53,000 households in the state own horses. Building unnecessary shelters could impose an onerous burden on many of them. The commissioners, if they do not take the opportunity to listen to the experts, should expect an increase in abandonment and neglect of the animals. She said the council receives calls daily from animal control officers who don’t know how to identify abuse and neglect. That means, there really are horses in the state suffering neglect and abuse, and animal rescue efforts in Buncombe would be wasting their time splitting hairs over things that don’t matter.
Several veterinarians were present. They argued horses did not need manmade shelters. Those were constructed purely to serve humans. Horses grow extra hair when it gets cold. They know to turn their back to the wind, and the oils in their skin repel water. They eat more and run around to stay warm. In cold climates, they may find shelter in something as simple as a timberline. They have survived hurricanes in the Outer Banks, and they run around in harsh climates in the Western US. Three-sided shelters mimic the habitats of dangerous animals that horses naturally avoid. Shelters would cost about $35 per square foot to construct. If that’s not enough to cause persons to forfeit their horses, it could crowd out money budgeted for hoof and dental care. What’s more, the ordinance is not going to do anything to change those who are already endangering their animals. As long as horses have food and room to run, they will be OK.
Bruce Peterson added to aspersions that the ordinance had not been drafted with careful consideration. It would be a strange animal that could comply with its stricture, “Shelters must provide space for each animal to comfortably stand up, lie down, and turn around simultaneously.”
Dylan Kiser, a junior at North Buncombe, told how the ordinance would apply to jacks, jennies, and mules. He explained how those animals did not think of themselves as horses but as the animals they protect. His family owns a jack, which, incidentally, was standing in the pasture with a thick coat and no shelter as he spoke. They were planning to move it to Buncombe for herding, but they will likely not do that if they have to build a shelter. That will leave their goat and cattle unprotected. What’s more, the family moves their animals from pasture to pasture. This is not atypical. The ordinance would require shelters in all pastures, and that would be cost-prohibitive. People would give up their horses before they build so many shelters. Referring back to the presentation made on county efforts to euthanize no animals at all, he indicated the ordinance would not help the statistical trends.
Ava Morgan said the commissioners were setting a dangerous precedent in not consulting the experts with such overreaching ordinances. “What will you do if you don’t like sheep being sheared, and their wool is not on them anymore? Will you have to put blankets on them? [And] pigs, if they’re wallowing in mud and causing a stink, will farmers have to put in a swimming pool?”
Jessica Freeman spoke on behalf of truly neglected horses with bones and ribs showing, that can’t walk or eat for lack of care. Madeline Johnson said she has taken emaciated, neglected horses in, but she won’t be able to do that if she has to spend her money on shelters. She also related a story of how hard it was to try to get horses indoors in a thunderstorm. She was out there, shaking a bucket, and the horse was looking at her as if she were strange.
Commissioner Miranda DeBruhl was chomping at the bit to get the amendments repealed or stalled, but Chair David Gantt, respectful of the rules to give proper notice before a vote, would have none of it. At press time, exactly where the commissioners will go with the new information is unknown.