ALBA – The latest battlefield over the custody of 26 horses is a luscious green alfalfa field just outside of Yantis.
While one woman fights to regain her horses, posting century-old family land as a bond to appeal a ruling that otherwise would leave her with nine felony animal cruelty charges, another woman vows to do everything in her power to keep the horses from going back.
On April 28, Wood County Judge Bryan Jeanes is scheduled to decide on Linda Hurley Jones’ appeal to a Feb. 2 hearing in which True Blue Animal Rescue was awarded custody of the Paint horses.
Pamela Dountas, 60, an equestrian rescuer with True Blue, has been in temporary custody of five of Ms. Jones’ pregnant mares since the seizure in January. She fears Ms. Jones will regain custody of the horses and said that returning the horses after feeding and caring for them would be not be the right thing to do.
“Morally, I don’t know if I can (bring) them back any more than I could (bring) an abused child back,” Ms. Dountas said. “I’ve never been a lawbreaker. I’m a retired minister. I’m a caretaker.”
The five mares are from a herd of 27 seized Jan. 24 from Ms. Jones’ pasture. When taken into custody, the horses were malnourished, dehydrated and unapproachable, Ms. Dountas said, adding that five were pregnant. Of the 27 horses, one died in veterinary care soon after the seizure.
Multiple attempts to reach Ms. Jones for comment were unsuccessful. She has hired an attorney.
Ms. Jones’ brother, Jack Hurley, 70, put the battle simply enough: “She felt like she was done wrong.”
“It’s not only trying to get the horses back; she’s got nine counts of criminal offenses against her, up to a $5,000 fine and time in the penitentiary,” Hurley said. “There’s a possibility by the time she gets through with this, she might have to spend $35,000 to $45,000. She might have to sell her property just to get out of all this.”
Smith County Chief Deputy Wes Criddle said his records show a “long history” of Ms. Jones not keeping her cattle penned up. However, his first record of any animal cruelty on Ms. Jones’ property was Jan. 19.
Deputies received a call about a recumbent horse along the fence-line Jan. 19. They called Ms. Jones, telling her to tend to the horse. Later that evening, deputies received another call about the same horse down at the fence, except this time, it was covered in hay.
Sgt. Kilan Polk, of the Wood County Sheriff’s Office, said he suspected it was “an effort to conceal the horse.”
If one animal has been neglected or is in need of medical attention or food, the law requires all the animals on the property – alive, dead or unborn – be seized. Less than a week later, deputies had enough cause to seize Ms. Jones’ entire team of horses, investigators said.
“While we were out there loading them, we had numerous people that live in the area stopping by and saying ‘Thank you’ for doing something because they’ve been this way for a long time,” Criddle said.
He said there was not enough land for the horses to graze. Each horse needs about 1.5 acres to graze, and Ms. Jones’ pasture could not support the amount of horses she owned, he said.
“Two or three were very healthy, big horses, but they were the dominant ones that would run the other horses off the good-eating stuff and eat it all for themselves,” Criddle said. “But that’s the nature of the pack.”
However, Hurley maintains that the horses were “in better shape than what True Blue” reported.
“Some of them were poor, but I don’t think they were in bad shape,” he said. “If one animal is sick in a herd, does that give somebody the right to pick them all up without questioning anybody?”
Hurley said his sister had “a lot of compassion” for her animals.
Although neighbors and strangers threw hay out for those horses because “they thought they were abandoned,” Hurley said they were being fed on the backside of the property.
He wonders whether his sister was waiting for the market to turn around and the price of horses to rebound.
“If I had a piece of property, I wouldn’t want somebody to tell me how to use it,” Hurley said.
Ms. Jones has raised horses on the property since 2001. For the past two years, she has lived off $1,000 a month in Social Security, Hurley said.
He helps her with hay, taking care of the cattle she has left and keeping her old Jeep running.
“Sometimes I wonder if … it wouldn’t be just as well off to euthanize them and go on with life, instead of trying to save all of them,” Hurley said. “Some of them, if you even have them saved, you ain’t got nothing when you’re through with them.”
Since taking in Ms. Jones’ horses, True Blue has spent about $13,000 on feed and veterinary costs, Ms. Dountas estimated. She is surprised that Ms. Jones is fighting for the horses’ custody.
“She could have said, ‘I can’t take care of these,’ and nothing would have happened,” Ms. Dountas said. “She would have signed a surrender, but this? … For some reason, this lady wants to get the horses back.”
Published April 4