A decision has been made regarding allegations of neglect of horses owned by Rebecca Hurley at Circle H Ranch, the business she owns and operates with her husband, Albert Hurley, on Case Road.
Hurley, as reported earlier by SooToday.com, had been fighting against some of the orders issued to her by the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA), stemming from complaints against Circle H last summer.
According to a decision dated February 19, 2013, and handed down by Rae Slater Legault, Chair of the Animal Care Review Board (a division of the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services), Hurley will have to comply with some requirements regarding shelter for her horses, while the OSPCA will foot the bill for certain services performed throughout the course of the investigation.
The investigation, initiated on August 24, initially saw three young horses and five dogs ordered removed by OSPCA Inspector Trudy Archibald.
Over the course of the next few weeks, eight cats were trapped and removed but one evaded capture and remains at the ranch.
Another eight horses were removed on August 31.
Hurley was charged with causing/permitting unnecessary suffering of animals and OSPCA Agent Archibald issued several orders covering the care of the 39 horses and one cat remaining on the Ranch.
Although the initial orders to remove the animals came from the OSPCA, the animals are now in the custody of the courts and, during the ACRB hearings, the lead police investigator Sault Ste. Marie Police Detective Sergeant Jack Rice said the animals would not be returned to the Ranch until the conclusion of Hurley's Criminal and Provincial proceedings.
The question of who will have to pay the boarding and care costs for those animals while they are held was not addressed by the ACRB.
By the conclusion of the ACRB hearings in December of 2012, the total bill for all the care of both the animals in custody and the ones on the ranch had surpassed $60,000.
Eleven horses, five dogs and eight cats remain in the care of the OSPCA or on foster farms contracted by the OSPCA to board them at a cost of almost $200 a day.
The orders issued for the animals remaining at the ranch covered mainly feeding, deworming and watering of the horses, as well as a veterinary examination and any care necessary for the cat.
Hurley disputed some of these orders and complied with others.
The purpose of the ACRB hearing was to hear evidence from both sides regarding the orders in dispute.
It did not deal with any orders concerning the animals that had been removed from the Ranch because those animals are in the custody of the courts and ACRB Chair Legault said that, as a result, she had to jurisdiction over them.
The hearing took nine days that were spread over three different sittings in October, November and December of 2012, respectively.
In that time period, all OSPCA orders were revoked but one, the order concerning man-made shelter for the 39 horses on the ranch.
In that, Chair Legault upheld the OSPCA order to build more shelters and modify some stalls in the barn but modified the order by extending the deadline as to when the shelters in the paddocks must be completed.
The decision states that Hurley must construct three-sided, south-facing shelters for horses at the ranch in the paddocks, with an area of at least 16 feet by 16 feet, no later than April 30th.
Hurley had said, in several hearings held in Sault Ste. Marie with the Animal Care Review Board and OSPCA officers present (with the OSPCA represented by Toronto lawyer, Paula Thomas), that the horses had natural, adequate shelter provided by trees at the ranch.
SooToday.com Assignment Editor Carol Martin, a friend of Hurley, acted as Hurley's advocate at the proceedings.
The Board also stated that for horses kept in the ranch’s barn, the stalls are to be renovated, to be no less than 4-feet by 8-feet in size, and shall be cleaned daily with clean bedding supplied, effective immediately.
During the hearing Hurley indicated she is in the process of building extra shelter for the horses in an attempt to meet the original OSPCA order, though she insisted there has been adequate natural shelter all along.
She also said she could use the barn for any of the 39 horses remaining on the ranch that couldn't access the existing run-in shelters in the paddocks in cases of extreme weather conditions.
Also at issue were allegations the horses’ hooves were in need of better care.
The Board’s decision states that the horses hooves be examined and trimmed if necessary by a farrier (equine footcare specialist) of Hurley’s choice by March 1 2013, if further trimmings have not been done since a first trim was performed by farrier Kevin Palmer in August 2012.
That order has since been fulfilled.
Furthermore, the Board’s decision states the amount of $1,820 for Palmer’s farrier services be paid by the OSPCA.
During the hearing, Hurley didn't argue that some of the horses hooves needed care and said she had appointments booked with her own farrier for six days after the initial launch of the investigation.
Hurley's farrier didn't come to the farm, though.
Palmer's assistant and horse handler, B.J. Kinsell made a courtesy call to him to tell him Palmer was going to be workng in the Circle H barn.
"He [Hurley's farrier John Munnock] said that's fine, I have other things to do anyway," Kinsell testified during the hearing in December.
Hurley maintained that the cost of using her own farrier would have been significantly less than the amount charged by Palmer and that her farrier's foot care would have been superior because he was familiar with her horses and their feet after caring for them for 16 years.
In her decision, Legault said it would have been appropriate for OSPCA Agent Archibald to order the horses hooves to be examined and cared for by a qualified farrier but that Hurley should have had a choice to use what ever farrier she wanted.
"It soon became obvious that Cindy Ross [Sault Ste. Marie Humane Society Shelter Manager] and Agent Archibald took complete control of the farrier services being rendered," said the Chair in her decision.
Circle H Ranch is a scenic property of over 100 acres consisting of wooded areas, several large and a few small paddocks, a barn, house, and several other out buildings.
It offers guided trail rides, pony rides, hay rides and winter sleigh rides both on and off the property.
Hurley has been the ranch's major owner and operator at Circle H for the past 16 years.
City Police and Sault Ste. Marie Humane society officials (acting as agents for the OSPCA) went to Circle H Ranch August 24, 2012 and searched the facility after receiving a complaint that there were at least a dozen emaciated horses at the ranch.
Hurley has stated her horses that were underweight, not emaciated, had lost weight quickly and she was trying to treat them for what she suspected were internal parasites that are resistant to standard methods of control and elimination.
After inspecting the ranch, the OSPCA issued a compliance order against Hurley dated September 17, 2012, requiring Hurley to meet OSPCA standards of nutrition, shelter and care, with proof of compliance to be provided by January 18, 2013.
Hurley told the Board the horses involved, as well as other animals, were not victims of neglect, but had been suffering from treatment-resistant internal parasites for which she had been treating them when they were taken from the ranch.
Hurley, when asked to clarify certain details for the Board by Carol Martin at a hearing in December, said the horses had been de-wormed and were undergoing a special homegrown feeding program to bring the horses’ weight back to normal.
The OSPCA revoked the feeding orders when they were satisfied that the horses had gained enough weight and were healthy.
OSPCA officers had also expressed concern about the condition of the horses' feet and ordered they be attended to by a qualified farrier.
The OSPCA said local farrier Kevin Palmer stated in a report there were signs of infection in some of the horses’ feet.
Hurley had disputed that claim, maintaining Palmer’s report was “biased” against Circle H Ranch and the types of cracks and chips (on the horses’ feet) listed by Palmer “are not serious.”
"It's just like you or I breaking a nail on a cupboard door or something," she had told the Board in December, and “not something that needs to be looked at right away."
She told the Board her own farrier of choice was scheduled to arrive and take care of the horses’ hooves August 30, six days after Palmer was retained by the Humane Society to care for the Circle H horses on August 24.
She said no one checked with her, and she objected to the fact that a farrier unfamiliar with her horses was caring for them when her own farrier of 16 years, John Munnoch, could have kept his appointment.
While the OSPCA hearings are over, Hurley still faces criminal offences and faces hearings before Criminal Court and the Provincial Court of Ontario in connection with the charges.
Her next court appearance is in March.
(Photo shown, Romeo, a stud and a horse of concern or hard keeper - December 26. All photos submitted by Kristie Lynn Tulloch with the exception of photo 15 in the gallery which was taken by SooToday.com's Donna Hopper during this year's Bon Soo Winter Carnival.)