W.Va. Senate passes bill giving state, county more oversight of horse rescues

Hidden Meadows seizure prompted legislation that would require equine-rescue operators to have facility license

March 01, 2011

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Legislation that would give state and county officials more oversight in the operation of equine rescues passed the state Senate on Tuesday.

The licensing and inspection regulations proposed in Senate Bill 540 were prompted, at least in part, by the seizure of more than 50 horses and two cows from Hidden Meadows Equine Rescue in Berkeley County in September 2011, said state Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson, who sponsored the bill.

Hidden Meadows operator Mary O'Brien, 37, pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of animal cruelty and was fined $1,000 in October.

A restitution hearing regarding the cost incurred in the county's seizure of the animals, many of which were found malnourished and with little to eat or drink, is scheduled for March 24, according to magistrate court records.

The legislation proposing the creation of the Equine Rescue Facilities Act would require equine-rescue operators to have a facility license issued by the state Department of Agriculture. The facilities would be inspected twice annually by county animal control officers, according to a Senate Judiciary Committee substitute for the bill, which was ordered to the House on Tuesday for consideration.  

A $100 fee for an equine rescue facility would be paid annually to the state Department of Agriculture, but the agency would return the money to the county to offset inspection costs, according to the bill.

The legislation also directs the state Commissioner of Agriculture to develop rules for issuing equine rescue facility licenses, revocation of licenses for violations, maintenance standards for the rescue operations, standards for closing facilities and seizing horses that are endangered, according to the proposed legislation.

— Matthew Umstead

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