all horses and ponies may lead a
full and productive life, free from pain and abuse."
October 19, 1999
Duane Schrag, Editor and Publisher
The Chanute Tribune
Chanute, KS 66720
Dear Mr. Schrag,
I hope that you will give us the opportunity, in print, to rebut some of the erroneous and often inflammatory statements published in the Chanute Tribune regarding HorseAid and the charges of animal cruelty brought against Garry Pennington, owner of a herd of Paso Finos he stables on a rented pasture in Chanute, Kansas.
If you choose to edit this letter, we must stipulate that you let your readers know this letter, in its entirety, is on our website (www.igha.org/rebut_ed.html). For those readers who do not have Internet access, they can call and leave their mailing address on our 24-hour voicemail (310.719.9094) and we will send them a copy of this letter at no charge.
In "Horse Aid Threatens City," your writer J.W. Keene refers to HorseAid as an "animal rights group" First of all, we do not encompass all "animals," only horses. Secondly, "rights" indicates that we have an extremist point of view, which we do not. On our website, we clearly state our view, citing a study by Harold D. Guither, University of Illinois, and Janice Swanson, Kansas State University, which says, in part:
"Animal welfare is based on principles of humane care and use. Welfare positions are founded on the basic premise that animals can and will be used to benefit humans, and the responsibility of use carries certain obligations to the animals. Generally, animal use obligations include appropriate husbandry; provision of essential food, water and shelter; health care and maintenance; alleviation of pain and suffering; and other needs."
In your same article it says, "I think it was handled wrong,' said Commissioner Brian Jopek. The animal control officer should have gotten some guidance from the City Attorney on this matter." Why was it not reported that the former City Attorney is also a Pennington? We have received conflicting reports as to whether or not he is a relative. Since he's retired and moved to another state, we have not been able to prove or disprove this. Is the current City Attorney a friend of the Pennington family? If it is the case, that would have been a clear conflict of interest and he should have recused himself. Just as it was a conflict of interest to quote Garry Pennington's own vet in a previous Chanute Tribune article as saying the horses were "not criminally neglected". Why not also quote the non-partial vet, Michael Thorpe, DVM., who said, in a letter on the veterinarian hospital's letterhead, "It is our professional opinion that this group of horses has not been well cared for. Water, feed, shade, and space requirements were not adequate. Two of the horses are nearing death due to starvation and injuries. All individuals in this group are at high risk of bodily injury, as it is not common practice to run multiple studs, mares with foals at their sides, and mares nearing term gestation, in direct contact with each other." This is just one paragraph in a full-page letter detailing the squalor in which the horses subsisted, and their various injuries.
In the Chanute Tribune's "Horse Aid Threatens City" it quotes Chanute Mayor Greg Barnhart as saying, "They (HorseAid) have stated that if we don't turn the 12 horses we have over to them they will send us a bill for $5,000 for services." In fact we said, in a letter sent to the City on October 11, 1999, "In the event that the City of Chanute does not honor its commitment to freely donate all the seized horses to the IGHA/HorseAid program as originally agreed to, the City of Chanute will be billed for all of our expenses, including the many hours spent by our volunteers on this rescue. Please remember that the many individuals involved in this rescue are IGHA/HorseAid volunteers, not City of Chanute volunteers." No specific money figure was ever mentioned, and in fact the "hard costs" of the Pennington case has already exceeded $5,000!
In your article "Animal cruelty charge dismissed against local man" by Connie Woodard, it explains Mr. Pennington's plea bargain, and how the herd was turned over to the City of Chanute (animal control). Once again, "Horse Aide" (misspelled again, don't you do even cursory research? You, as the editor, should know how to at least spell names correctly. Cindy Hesse's was also misspelled on several occasions) is incorrectly referred to as an "animal rights group."
Pennington's attorney, Edwin Bideau III, is quoted as saying, "Under no circumstances was there any agreement with HorseAid or to involve HorseAid." This is totally erroneous. In a court order (CASE NO 99CR - State of Kansas VS. Garry W. Pennington) filed in the District Court of Neosho County, KS, it states "That pursuant to K.S.A. 21-4311, all horses located on the premises of above said location, are placed in the custody of Horse Aide". HorseAid got involved at the request of Bill Penner, an officer of the City's Animal Control department. Our help was requested as far back as February 1998 when an earlier complaint was filed. At that time, Bill Penner wrote Garry Pennington a letter instructing him to make several changes in the care of his dogs, and his horses, in order to avoid formal charges.
In February 1998 Pennington was told, on City of Chanute stationary, that his horses needed to be put on a regular worming and feeding program (obviously not done, judging by the underweight, potbellied condition of his horses when confiscated in July of 1999 by the City, and Dr. Michael Thorpe's letter referring to "starvation" and "parasites"); that foals should be weaned no later than six months (not done; yearlings were found nursing off of pregnant mares in the summer of '99); that he was to provide a constant source of salt for the horses (no salt licks were found in July of '99 when our volunteers accompanied Animal Control officer Bill Penner onto Pennington's rented lot); that he was to remove his stallion from the City of Chanute as they are prohibited by ordinance (not done - in fact, five stallions were found on the property this summer); that he was to clean up excessive accumulation of manure inside the shed (manure was still ankle-deep); and that he was to check for signs of lice or mange (the horses still had painful, itchy skin conditions when confiscated the following year over seventeen months later).
In your article of October 6, "Horse (non) sense," you imply that Garry Pennington was the victim of unfounded complaints. You write, "Disagreements of this sort occur all the time. Some people leave their pets to the elements; others let them sleep in bed with the family." Obviously, you have not seen the photos of the horses taken in July and August of 1999, nor have you read the vet report which stated, "Two of the horses are nearing death due to starvation and injuries." This is not merely a case of "leaving his pets to the elements" as you so flippantly stated. The horse's ribs and hipbones jutted out like coat racks. Anyone who doubts this is invited to view the photos on our website and decide for themselves (www.igha.org/rebut_ed.html). We also have to wonder why the Tribune never published any photos of these horses, even though you had dispatched a photographer to take photos around the time the horses were first confiscated. This would have clearly settled the issue of the herd's condition. You don't have to be an expert on horses to know that those horses were suffering. All you need is eyes and empathy. Empathy is the ability to imagine yourself in another's situation. Just think: how would you like to be tied to a bathtub in the hot sun for days on end with no food, no water, and untreated injuries?
The horses had to stand day after day in piles of their own feces and urine. One of the horses suffered from open, fly-infested sores on his body, because he had nowhere to lie down but on the ground where old wires were sticking up. The metal fence posts were bent and wire was broken away, protruding into the pen where the horse could have been fatally impaled. His right hind leg was severely swollen and there was infection. The horses were seriously underweight, and the meager amount of water they had access to was full of muck and dirt. No, this is hardly a case of "preference" as to whether to allow a horse to sleep outside or in bed with the family. If you think it's okay to keep horses this way, then I sincerely hope that you are not a pet owner.
Your article goes on to say that Garry Pennington was asked to sign a contract giving up nearly all his horses, or he would face the possibility of criminal prosecution for alleged animal cruelty. "Was this the City's idea?" you write, "Or did HorseAid enlist the City to help out HorseAid's mission, which is to liberate horses it believes aren't being properly cared for?" First of all, the City made the initial contact in February of 1998. Wanda Cain, our volunteer, wrote Garry Pennington a letter on February 14, letting him know that the City contacted HorseAid, and she asked Pennington if he would like our assistance in educating him on proper feed and care of his horses. Pennington did not respond to the letter, nor did he make even the slightest amendment to the very poor living conditions of his horses. Secondly, where do you get off deciding what our mission is? We do not have a mission statement but our motto is, and always has been, "HorseAid: So that all horses and ponies may lead a full and productive life, free from pain and abuse." What's "extremist animal rights" about that? On our website, we clearly state: "This space is normally reserved for an organization's 'Mission Statement', but we at IGHA/HorseAid don't list any such published statement as we believe the mission of any such organization as ours is pretty much self-evident; the abolishment of all equine abuse and slaughter, owner education in the ways and needs of horses including intelligent breeding programs that do not contribute to the equine overpopulation problem, laws severely restricting the commercial exploitation of horses, and 'common sense' humane equine legislation adopted as the norm for all the land." Where does it say our mission is to liberate horses we believe aren't being properly cared for? In your paper, in your words, that's where. We demand that you retract this totally preposterous, completely false statement. This "mission" you espouse is not ours.
You also wrote, "This is an organization without any official status. It is not a corporation, it is not a non-profit, and its contracts' are of dubious validity." No, we are not incorporated (and in California and Kansas, neither are a majority of other rescues or businesses). We never said we were. No, we are not non-profit 501 (3) (c), never said we were that, either. We originally decided to not file for a 501 (3) (c), so that we could assist in horse welfare lobbying efforts in congress and state legislatures. We have kept that status because every year, we put the 501 (3) (c) issue up to our many volunteers to vote on. When they decide we should file for 501 (3) (c) status, we will. We are very much involved in trying to change slaughter transport laws and animal cruelty laws. We are "not-for-profit" which is different. Ask anyone if they have ever gotten a circular from us, pleading for donations (such as the ones we all get from PETA, World Wildlife Fund, HSUS, et al). We do not, nor have we ever, sold a HorseAid horse (or any horse through HorseAid). Who are you to say our adoption contracts are of "dubious validity"? Are you a lawyer, Mr. Schrag?
"And now the charges have been dropped," you write of Mr. Pennington's cruelty complaint. Why don't you also say that he plea bargained to avoid criminal prosecution, and that is why the charges were dropped? You imply that there was no basis for the charge in the first place. "But Garry Pennington doesn't have his horses," you sadly conclude. Well, he does have some of his horses. The other ones he plea-bargained away. The City owns them, and for once in their lives, they are being fed and cared for.
"The City and County Attorney let a group with extremist ideas of horse rights shake down a citizen to get his animals away from him," you wrote. The City came to HorseAid first (and they did it twice). We are not a horse rights group. We think it's okay to ride horses, we think it's fine to use them - we just don't think it's okay to abuse them. We definitely do not think it's okay to starve horses, or allow injured animals to suffer in record-breaking heat with no shade, no food, no salt and no water. An extremist horse rights group would have taken those horses away in the middle of the night and hidden them; we worked within the law and under the guidance of the City of Chanute.
"According to the City's expert, he (Pennington) didn't violate the law," you wrote. Again, you do not make any mention of the other vet commissioned by the City, Dr. Michael Thorpe, DVM. Weak laws are not infallible. That is why HorseAid, other horse welfare groups, and many individuals across the country, help to lobby their congresspersons to change those laws. It might not even be against the law in Kansas for a horse owner to go out and shoot every one of his horses in the head - but does that make it right? Great improvements and vast changes have been made in child labor laws and child abuse laws in this country in the last 50 years, what if everyone was just complacent, like you, and said, "Oh, well, it's not against the law, so let the abuses to children continue."
Your "Horse (non) Sense" article was extremely one-sided and very opinionated. Did you ever once call anyone from HorseAid to get our input? No, you did not. As for your opinions, which are presented as fact, please state your credentials in veterinary medicine or/and animal rescue for all of us. We would also like you know if you even read our HorseAid Adoption Agreement before denouncing it with your "legal" opinion.
Your article "Horse Sense," published on October 14, 1999, states: "There is a noticeable trend in this country toward seizing property from individuals without so much as a court hearing." Then you go on to cite drug-related seizures. How can you compare a horse, a living, breathing, feeling creature with the property of drug dealers? Yes, horses are considered "personal property" in this country, but they are also living things. On the opinion of Dr. Thorpe, two of the horses were in imminent danger of dying if they weren't removed from Pennington's rented property and put into the veterinary hospital. You are comparing horses with inanimate "personal property" objects. That is not a logical analogy. How can you compare a horse with jewelry or VCRs?
You state that the County Attorney filed the criminal case, then withdrew it, "insisting the case nevertheless had merit. Oh? Then it should have been prosecuted." Yes, it should have been prosecuted, but Garry Pennington plea-bargained instead. In a perfect world, every criminal would be behind bars, but this is not a perfect world and criminals plea bargain and go free every day.
In conclusion, you state, "It's hard to avoid looking like a bully when you appropriate private property without due process." It's hard to avoid looking like an unfeeling blockhead when you publish statements like that, too. Do you not understand that the horses (which you keep referring to as "personal property" as if they are plastic models sitting on a shelf, not real animals) were removed for their good? They needed medical attention, feed, and water right away! That's why the City of Chanute is empowered to impound.
In the Chanute Tribune article, "Commissioners vote to hold Horse Aide payments that have already been paid" by J.W. Keene, it outlined how the vet bills on the Chanute Pasos had been paid by the City, against the City Commissioner's and the Mayor's wishes. Although HorseAid offered to pay the bills, the City covered the $1,000+ in initial vet bills. "Are these expenses we need to pay?" City Commissioner Ed Cox is quoted as saying, "Do we need to pay these since this was a Horse Aide operation? Is the County responsible? Why should we be responsible?"
Once again, we must remind the City of its own past-doings. The City of Chanute contacted us. We took over the day to day care of many of the horses so that the City would not have to board them and thus incur more bills. No one from the City of Chanute fed and watered these horses on a daily basis. No one from the City of Chanute dressed wounds and cleaned hooves on a daily basis. No one from the City of Chanute groomed these horses or worked the macramé-like tangles from their manes and tails.
"They are real big about somebody doing something as long as somebody else is paying the bills," said City Commissioner Brian Jopek. "We should look into getting our money back from somebody." Hey, how about the man who caused all the suffering in the first place? Why shouldn't Garry Pennington pay the vet bills? HorseAid was willing, but the City paid the vet bills first. The City did not devote hours of personal time in caring for the horses. The City did not pay to trailer the horses to HorseAid SafeHouses. The City did not buy wormer and vaccinations. The City did not buy supplements for nursing mares. The City did not see two new foals into the world. The City did not buy brushes and other grooming tools. The City did not pay for feed and halters. The overwhelming task of rehabilitating these severely starved and injured horses amounts to much more than just two vet bills.
Mr. Cox said that volunteers should not be reimbursed for expenses. Mr. Jopek has made a big deal saying that he volunteered for the Jaycees and never asked to be reimbursed. Our reps volunteer for HorseAid, not the City. Besides, if Mr. Jopek jumps off a bridge, that doesn't mean our volunteers will, too. His statement is completely incongruous, and irrelevant to this case. How many sick, starving Jaycees has he taken into his home?
Most shockingly heartless of all is the statement from Mayor Barnhart, who must have a barn for a heart, when he said, "If a horse is about to die, why do we have to spend $1,200 on it?" Why? Because we as human beings are supposed to have compassion for the animals we are the guardians of. Domestic animals, all animals really, are at the mercy of us humans. Mercy is what was shown to that dying horse, and so he didn't die. If it were up to Mr. Barnhart, the horse would have been left to die a slow, starving death under the blazing sun in a pile of its own feces. Why does the City of Chanute even bother having an Animal Control office? Obviously the Mayor thinks it's okay to let animals die, especially if it saves the City a few dollars.
We hope that the next time you decide to publish an article about "the extremist animal rights group, Horse Aide," you will contact someone at headquarters for our side of the story.
Staci Layne Wilson
Does this horse look "well cared for" to YOU?
(click on image for more photos)
The important thing to remember is that the City of Chanute, KS (Ofc. Bill Penner, Animal Control, the only person on the Chanute City payroll who seemed to really care anything about the well-being of these Paso Finos) asked for HorseAid's help on February of 1988, on the same owner, same herd, with the same complaints (as in 1999) — not the other way around.
Seventeen months later, things had just gotten worse for the horses — which is usually the case when dealing with animal owners who think it is their god given and constitutionally protected right to keep their animals in any condition they (and they alone) see fit.
The same insignificant bunch of malcontents that interfered with Lady's rescue, did likewise with this one (sending the City of Chanute and the Editor of "The Chanute Tribune" faxes and emails containing made up stories and bogus "inside information" about us). The more we were able to set aside their shenanigans, the more rabid they became.
It was only after KS/MO HorseAid Field Rep Cindy Hesse's dog was shot dead, and several other HorseAid volunteers received threats of violence against them, that the IGHA CEO, after much thought about the future safety of the HorseAid volunteers, told everyone involved with the Pennington Pasos to "stand down" on this rescue as much as possible until the City of Chanute decided on a definite course of action concerning the 12 Paso Finos.
No one was every apprehended in the shooting of Cindy Hesse's dog, and the police said that most of the phoned violence threats originated in MO, OR, and MA.
1998 Correspondence on Pennington Paso Fino herd:
Chanute to Pennington, page 1 & page 2 HorseAid to Pennington Chanute to HorseAid
1999 Correspondence on Pennington Paso Fino herd:
(with timeline) to attorney on Pennington Paso Fino herd
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