Animal protection team is on task — and won an award for service

by: COURTESY PHOTO - Washington County Sheriffs Deputy Leanne Stoneberg is part of the countys Animal Protection Multi-Disciplinary Team. She stumbled into the animal beat after discovering a malnourished horse in western Washington County.Animals are a big part of life in rural western Washington County, but they can also be problematic.

In one local incident this past year, someone cut a fence enclosing a herd of bison. What the culprits might not have known is that bison have a tendency to charge and stampede, meaning the perpetrators put their own lives — and others’ — in danger. They were lucky the bison ignored them that day.

For dealing with everything from stubborn pets to neglected livestock, Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy Leanne Stoneberg and her Animal Protection Multi-Disciplinary Team garnered the 2013 Cameron Award for Outstanding Community Collaboration. The award is given to a local organization each year by the nonprofit Vision Action Network of Washington County.

Run by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, the team partners with more than 20 local organizations and businesses to prevent animal abuse. So far, they have achieved a 100 percent conviction rate when charging animal abuse offenders.

Stoneberg has worked as an animal deputy for three years and says the secret to the team’s success is that its members care so deeply, even putting in hours of outside time. “Animals have always been a big part of my life,” she said. “This isn’t everybody’s niche. It just happens to be mine.”

Stoneberg discovered her niche when responding to a call about a neglected horse. When she arrived at the barn to investigate, she noticed two other strikingly malnourished horses. Their vertebrae were visibile through their skin. Their coats were dull. And their hip bones stuck out.

When gathering information for a case, even small details, such as how worn-down an animals’ teeth are, can help lead to justice and an animal-abuse conviction.

Stoneberg and her team worked to charge the horses’ owners and get the animals into a better care situation. Now they are much healthier, Stoneberg said. “The change in their coats alone is tremendous.”

Not every story ends as happily, such as the time she noticed a dying llama in someone’s back yard. The llama was in obvious pain, on its side, gasping for breath, Stoneberg recalls.

Though she knew exactly how to help the llama, the owner was resistant. After two hours, she said, she finally convinced him to call his veterinarian and to humanely euthanize the llama.

Those are the cases where Stoneberg has to remember to let go of the things she can’t change about her job.

“When I first started I had a heart ‘this big’ for animals,” Stoneberg said. “I just wanted to save every one of them, but some people have livestock and some people see them as pets, and I had to learn to recognize that.

“There is always more I could have done for a horse, or a dog, and it breaks my heart.”

Still, Stoneberg comes back every day, ready to help protect the winged, furred or scaled residents of Washington County. She tries to focus on the positive aspects and the great things the Animal Protection Multi-Disciplinary Team has done. “We get to give a voice for something that truly can’t speak for itself.”

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