Tuesday, April 21, 2009

3 Stikes You're Out or The Ranch from Hell

Recently there have been a number of equine issues hitting the news. They include a jerk under arrest in California after he called the police telling them that his horse needed to be euthanized after suffering seizures due to an attack by dogs. Turns out that there was no dog attack, but that the man had hit the horse in the head with a hammer several times and then used a chainsaw to cut its head off to feed the horse to his dogs. The next one is that several polo ponies in Florida were found poisoned over the weekend. HSUS has sent a team in to investigate and hopefully the person or persons responsible will be found quickly and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Lastly is the issue that I want to talk about, the issue at the Nebraska ranch called 3 Strikes.

The owner of the ranch has been arrested for felony animal cruelty in the death of "more than 10 but less than 100" horses with more potential charges pending. He has been released on bail at this time. (Please note that while charged, it has not been proven in a court of law and in the US all suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty, so all of the information posted here are what is alleged.) The Bureau of Land Management has taken possession of a single BLM titled horse and have confirmed the death of at least 2 horses and 2 burros that are still titled to the BLM. The BLM has also ordered a necropsy (horsie autopsy) of the dead BLM horses to determine their exact cuase of death. However, evidence at the scene doesn't support poisoning but more likely starvation.

However, that is the end of the story. Let's go back to the beginning. I first heard of the 3 Strikes Ranch a little over a year ago. The owner, Jason Meduna, was promoting the ranch as a safe haven for mustangs who can no longer be cared for by their owners and a place for horses placed by BLM on a sale authority under the Burn's Amendment's three striles rule (where if a horse is put up for adoption 3 times, but not adopted could be sold without restriction). After the three strikes rule was put into place there were a number of mustangs that ended up at horse slaughter plants. The equine welfare community was up in arms over that and the BLM temporarily halted the sales while they developed an affidavit for potential owner to sign stating that they do not intend to use the horses for slaughter. Mr Meduna seemed to have stepped up to save the day to provide a sanctuary for these horses.

Some folks actively supported Mr Meduna and even nominated him to the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board. This guy just seemed to many to be Mr Wonderful offering not only a sanctuary for the often mishandled and misplaced wild horses, but a training program to help rehome these wonderful animals. However, at the time some of his statements struck me the wrong way and AHDF didn't support his nomination. It wasn't that I or AHDF knew anything, it was just one of those feelings. Around that time I was told that he had over 300 horses at his ranch, but could handle about 1000.

Later an issue came up that more than 227 horses from a Native American reservation needed to be placed. These horses were genetically special because they had been genetically linked to the original Indian ponies and were very closely related to the original Spanish ponies that were reintroduced in North America. Mr Meduna stepped forward to offer placement for these horses. I didn't keep up with what followed, but I have been told that he took at least some of these horses. I don't know how many or exactly when because once he stepped forward those negotiations went private. That would put the number of horses on his ranch from anywhere close to 400 to over 500. I have also been told that he has taken a number from several rescues. Again, increasing his numbers. Things like that would have made me nervous because too many times we have seen new rescues take in large numbers and not be able to provide the proper care for them. However, it went under the radar for me and probably most people. Until now I don't think that anyone knew the numbers of horses he was taking in because I am sure that it would have rung alarm bells all over the community. I raise the question of the number of horses because I think this story goes deeper than any of us know right now, as bad as now is.

The pro-slaughter folks often use things like this to show why horse slaughter is necessary. However that is a bit disingenuous. This guy wasn't "forced" into a position where he had no outlet for his horses. He went out looking for more and more and offering to take more and more horses. This is more of a hoarder's mentality and hoarders do NOT get rid of their animals. If the rescue community had known about all the collecting we could have stepped in to prevent the situation or at least minimize it. However, we were unaware that it was growing and being fed by various rescues, individuals and Mr Meduna's apparent desire for more and more horses and more and more attention.

When horses began to die at the 3 Strikes Ranch a plausible story was put out that the horses were being poisoned. People rallied around the ranch and Mr Meduna. The story was so believable that people even filed complaints against a very innocent and confused vet. However, this is where the story began to unravel.

When a stallion disappeared Mr Meduna told a supporter that he had been stolen. The police were called and a report was even filed with Net Posse. When the police began investigating they could find no local vets who could verify that they had treated or even been called about any horse poisonings. This tipped them off that something wasn't right at the ranch. After investigating further the horrors became apparent, bodies of unburied horses apparently litter the ground at the ranch. The "stolen" horse has been located, but his condition is not yet being released. Several horse rescue groups have stepped forward, including the Texas based Habitat for Horses and the Colorado based Front Range Equine Rescue. The horses were beginning to be evaluated and treated during Mr Meduna's incarciration. Habitat for Horses (HfH) was forced to hire an airplane to view the whole ranch and determine where all the horses and bodies were located. Front Range is collecting funds to care for the horses, so if anyone would like to donate PLEASE send your donations to them.

Today the news has come out from Jerry Finch of HfH has obtained a release from Mr Meduna for 200 horses and 10 burros. Thankfully it seems that he is willing to do the right thing, but probably more to save himself and a little too late for too many horses. HfH and Front Range are coordianting the placement of these horses, but they are a long way from being able to be moved. Some of the horses are in such poor condition that they can bearly stand. Others have gone down and may not be able to be saved. Local vets have provided a great deal of assitance as have other individuals who previously supported Mr Meduna and these horses finally have a chance to have the lives that Mr Meduna had promised.

I write this not just to ask for help for those helping horses, but to again stress that people should check situations and people out. If that had been done earlier things might not have gotten this bad. Too often we think that others are as kind hearted as we are and they aren't, they are taking advantage of our kindness. We think that because we care and others say they do that they are good people, they aren't always. I hate to think that one has to go through life thinking that others are out there trying to get us, but sometimes we have to protect ourselves. If someone seems to be taking all the horses, or is jumping up first to take in large numbers of hores it is best to at least question it and/or let others know. If an alarm bell rings in your head or you get a bad feeling in your gut you should listen to it. Thankfully this mess is being cleaned up, but too many paid with their lives and at least some of it could have been avoided. It is possible that we may never know what happened to all of the horses or even why or what other secrets may be buried at the "Ranch from Hell" as it is now being called.

1 comment:

R.T. Fitch said...

Thanks for the history details...it all makes your blood run cold.

R.T.

R.T. Fitch
Author - "Straight from the Horse's Heart"
The Force of the Horse®, LLC
1-800-974-FOTH
www.rtfitch.com
www.habitatforhorses.org
www.equinewelfarealliance.org