Edith Karlin says her horses' poor condition was result of a recent move, not a lack of food and care
On March 19, the Oregon Humane Society seized 10 horses from the rural Estacada property of Edith Karlin, citing the belief that the horses' lives were at risk.
While the Humane Society recognizes that Karlin is innocent until proven guilty, the horses were seized as evidence for an investigation into whether Karlin was neglecting the horses.
"We received a complaint from a member of the public," said David Lytle, a spokesman for the Humane Society. "We contacted the owner. She gave us permission to come out there, and when our officer looked at the horses, we saw a lot of red flags.
"From our point of view, we did not have hope that she would resolve the situation."
Lytle said several of the horses were several hundred pounds underweight, and on a scale of 1-9 (one being very emaciated), the horses were ranked as low as three.
"It takes several months for a horse to lose that much weight," he said. "In my six years, it was one of the worst cases I have seen."
In particular, two of the 10 horses were severely and noticeably underweight, a problem Karlin says she has been trying to solve.
After living in Eagle Creek for 35 years, Karlin was forced by the slumping economy to move farther up the mountain and to take her horses with her. The toughest part of the move, she said, was that the horses had been living in a flat area at an elevation of about 300 feet and were moving into a hilly area at an elevation of 1,800 feet.
"We had 23-26 when we moved here, but because of what was happening to the horses, we began giving some away, and we had already placed almost 16," she said. "No matter what I fed the two skinniest horses, I just couldn't put weight on them."
Karlin insists she had been feeding the horses twice a day to no avail.
She said the animal control officer came out in response to the complaint, and she allowed him to look around the property and was fully cooperative. She said a veterinarian had recently been in to look at the horses, and according to her, the vet was unable to identify why the horses were so underweight.
She also informed him she was in the process of placing the horses in other homes and that four of the 10 already had homes arranged.
"He told me that I looked overwhelmed," she said. "I said, 'I know, I am trying to place the horses.'
"I wanted to get down to two or three horses, and I was willing to work with these people and was doing everything they asked me to. They didn't tell me they would come back with a warrant.
"The officer's statement to me was that he was finishing his report and that he would come back later in the week."
Unfortunately for Karlin, that visit was, in fact, accompanied by a warrant to seize the horses March 19.
"We had probable cause to believe that neglect had occurred based on the horses' body weight and one instance in which a halter hadn't been removed for over two months," Lytle said. "Nobody is calling her guilty."
When asked about whether the horses could have lost the weight because of the change in elevation and surroundings, they acknowledged that as a possibility.
"If it were found from our vets that the horse had a disease or something that was keeping them from putting on weight, then there would be no fault found," said Barbara Baugnon, of the Humane Society. "The horses were seized because of the investigation, which is currently moving forward."
As the investigation proceeds, Karlin remains baffled by everything that has taken place.
"These horses are my life, and I've had horses for 50 years," she said, fighting back tears. "Nothing meant more to me.
"Maybe they needed more food than I could afford right now, but they were still getting fed two to three times every day. The only thing I'm guilty of is trying my best to take care of the horses."
Karlin's son, Kevin Raney, echoed his mother's sentiments.
"I agree that the horses were thin, but it's not like we weren't trying to take care of them," he said. "It's unfortunate because the statements about the health of the horses are true, but there were circumstances behind it.
"My mother lost her home trying to care for these horses."
As the process moves on, one of the Humane Society veterinarians will examine each horse and compile a evidence that will be presented to the district attorney, who will decide whether or not to prosecute.
Lytle said he thinks Karlin will be prosecuted for second-degree animal neglect, which is punishable by a maximum of six months in jail and a fine of $2,500. Karlin could potentially face up to 10 counts of animal neglect.
In the meantime, the horses are with volunteers from Sound Equine, which specializes in caring for neglected horses.
"This is one of the most serious cases because it's such a large number of animals, and when we look at their body mass scale, it is poor, as is the condition of their pasture," Lytle said. "It takes months and months to lose this much weight."