Criminal probe sought into neglect of 5 ponies used by street vendors

January 26, 1994|By David Michael Ettlin | David Michael Ettlin,Staff Writer

Baltimore officials asked yesterday for a criminal investigation into the neglect of five ponies found starving or dead Sunday in an eastside stable, and for a review of Bureau of Animal Control procedures in handling emergency complaints.

"We'll be talking to the state's attorney about what charges to bring against who," said Donald T. Torres, an assistant city health commissioner.

The ponies, which pulled carts for street vendors, lacked the city licenses required for work animals, the stable was not licensed, and a vacant building on the property was in such poor condition that the housing department initiated steps to condemn it yesterday, officials said.

Three ponies survived and were being nursed back to health yesterday at the Potomac-based Maryland Horse Rescue Center. Animal autopsies were conducted on the others at a state Department of Agriculture lab in Frederick.

The two dead ponies -- one of them found chained in a stall by its neck -- had empty stomachs and no reserve of fat in their bodies, subjecting them to stress from the cold, according to preliminary findings released by state officials.

Earl Watson, the city animal control chief, acknowledged yesterday that the bureau had been told of the neglected ponies by animal rights activist Sylvia Block on Dec. 29. Mr. Watson said the bureau sent about 100 bales of hay Jan. 4, with orders for the stable operators to "clean it up and get a veterinarian to examine the horses."

But the ponies slipped through a crack in the good intentions.

Mr. Watson said he could not go in immediately to remove the animals without permission of the owner. But the owner was found to be in jail, and the woman he had asked to care for the animals had physical problems and delegated the responsibilities to a son, who apparently did not feed the ponies. Mr. Watson said.

The city was notified by the property owner that the horses had been kept in the stable without his permission, but icy weather delayed the Animal Control Bureau's response, Mr. Watson said. The bureau called on the horse rescue center recommended by Ms. Block, but by then two of the ponies were dead.

"I have rules and regulations that I have to follow," Mr. Watson said. "The city is not at fault."

But Elle L. Powers, a spokeswoman for the horse rescue center, said the city should have acted sooner. "All this stuff about who owns it is garbage," she said. "They could have moved those animals out on Jan. 5 and we would have moved out five live animals.

"To me, those horses died a very painful, unnecessary death. There was no reason for them to die for a piece of paper. . . . The two that died -- they were still on their lead shanks. They were tied to the wall so they couldn't get out, couldn't get to the hay. They just starved, dropped to the floor and froze," she said.

"I think it's absolutely unconscionable what happened," said Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd, sponsor of the 1988 city ordinance requiring licensing of animals used for labor purposes and establishing a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine and a year in jail for violators.

"Obviously, the Bureau of Animal Control dropped the ball here," Mr. Ambridge said. "I think they could have prevented this. They were made aware of this situation. Obviously, they should have removed the animals immediately. Obviously, they have to review their policy."

Mr. Ambridge said the response from the city was lacking. "They're responding now, after the fact," he said. "I think it's incumbent on these people to review their policy in an emergency situation like this and to inspect the other stables they're aware of. The winter is still young."

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