On May 2, after finding two dead dogs and three emaciated horses on the property, he and his department took stronger action, seizing 16 horses, eight dogs and a rabbit. Five days later, Bethea was at N.C. State University taking a short course that would change some of his thinking about the case.
Through the three-day Horse Protection Officers Short Course, he and 18 others from five states underwent intensive training in horse health and the legal aspects of animal cruelty investigations.
If Bethea had known in August 2001 what he knew upon completing the course, he said, he would have seized the animals immediately.
I grew up around horses and knew about body conditioning scoring, he said. But I didnt know how sensitive the digestive system is.
That doesnt surprise Dr. Bob Mowrey, an extension horse specialist and animal science professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Mowrey teaches many of the horse health aspects of the course, including what constitutes good feeding practices, how to identify a debilitated horse and how to restore such a horses health. Like Bethea, many professionals and volunteers who work on horse cruelty cases have little formal training when it comes to horses. For example, many assume that a horse with a big belly is well-fed, but the truth of the matter is that the horses bloated appearance can result from poorly digested forage. Its really a sign of poor nutrition, Mowrey said.
For 12 years, the protection officers class has been helping to fill the knowledge gap. Sponsored by the Animal Protection Society of Orange County, the Humane Society of the United States, the N.C. Horse Council and N.C. States College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the course is the only one of its kind on the East Coast and draws participants from as far away as Alabama, Florida and New York.
The short course is offered as part of a series of about 15 courses and clinics held from December through May each year. Through the series, Cooperative Extension horse husbandry specialists provide training in such diverse topics as horse breeding, judging, foaling, shoeing and fencing.
The protection course combines classroom instruction at the Brownestone Hotel with hands-on activities at the universitys equine educational unit at the off-campus Reedy Creek Road Field Laboratory.
On the courses first day, Dean Edwards, director of Durham Countys animal shelter, outlined the goals of an animal protection investigation, the qualities of a good investigator, state and local cruelty laws and the logistics of taking a complaint, interviewing suspects and taking field notes. Drawing upon real cases, he also reviewed common scenarios and resolutions and gave participants pointers on preparing for court. Also on that day, Joan Cunningham, assistant N.C. attorney general, reviewed the basics of criminal search and seizure.
The following day, the courses focus shifted from cruelty investigations to equine anatomy, psychology, handling and feeding. Instructors were Penny Yocum, Kim Foushee and Mowrey, all with North Carolina Cooperative Extensions horse husbandry program.
The wide range of topics takes into the account the wide range of experience among the participants, Mowrey said.
Carol Treftz, for example, has had little personal experience with horses, but she has been called upon to help investigate horse cruelty cases.
Before this class, I knew very little about horses. I loved horses, but I was kind of afraid of them, said Treftz, a former police officer who now serves as animal cruelty investigator for Greenville County, S.C.
To have an expert show me how to handle a horse that was the best part of the whole deal. Im a lot more confident now and know that I have to show that Im the boss when it comes to handling a horse, she said.
For Judy Fawley, a volunteer with the humane society in Burlington who is interested in seeking an appointment by her county commissioners as an animal cruelty investigator, learning more about how to conduct a cruelty investigation and prepare for court was critical.
For appointment as an animal cruelty investigator under [N.C. General Statute] 19A, theres an educational requirement, and this course helps fill that requirement, said Fawley. And, this being a highly recognized course, I thought it would be good training to have before going before the county commissioners.
The diet and feeding information was enlightening; I didnt know that you could end up killing the debilitated animal easily if you dont restore their nutritional status gradually, she said. This also was my first experience with horses my first time going out and picking up a hoof and touching a horses leg.
Elaine Modlin, on the other hand, owns seven horses, has been involved in animal control for 20 years but has never received formal training in the area.
I work with the City of Laurinburg, and if we continue annexing, Im sure there will come a time when I will be doing horse investigations. This course is excellent preparation, said Modlin, an animal control officer.
It gives those of
us in animal control enough information to assess a situation and educate
the owner or prove that we need to get the animal into veterinary care.