Court rules horse stables unsanitary

Published 12:06 am Tuesday, April 22, 2014

EDITOR’S NOTE: The article as originally published misidentified Southern Carriage Tours. We regret the error and are happy to set the record straight.

NATCHEZ — After two hours of discussion about just how much poop a horse can produce, the Natchez Environmental Court found Southern Carriage Tours owner George Vines guilty of having unsanitary stables on Briel Avenue.

The court found him not guilty, however, on a charge of animal cruelty.

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With the conviction came a fine of $1,000 and $150 in court costs.

The citations for which Vines was on trial were written by code enforcement officer Nikki Johnson Feb. 5 at the behest of animal control officer Randy Meyers.

Meyers testified at trial Monday he believed the horses housed at the stables were being “tortured” because the stable property was very muddy and retained water during the winter months.

The water was retained on the lot in part, Meyers said, because horse manure wasn’t being removed in a timely enough fashion.

When Vines’ attorney, Jeremy Diamond, asked Meyers if he would reaffirm statements he made in the newspaper that he didn’t believe the horses were in danger of injury but believed they were unhappy, Meyers agreed.

“Anybody with any sense will tell you an animal is not happy when his feet are all wet,” Meyers said.

Johnson testified the stables smelled very strongly of animal waste.

“The backside (of the stables), I could not even go because of the smell,” she said.

She likewise affirmed Meyers’ testimony about the standing water.

“I felt those horses couldn’t stand there in that ice and mud,” she said.

Johnson and Meyers told the court the horses could walk into a raised stall, where they did not have to stand in the water.

When Diamond asked Meyers about his expertise that qualified him to speak about horses, Meyers cited having grown up on a farm and owning horses. Johnson likewise said she had owned a horse and visited the Alcorn State University horse barn many times.

Dr. Byron Garrity, a Natchez veterinarian who has treated Vines’ horses since he started the carriage tour business, said he visited the stables several times during February and had never seen a danger to the horses due to the water and the mud.

“If I had (seen something), I would have said something,” Garrity said.

Instead, Garrity said he has seen the horses cared for and their feet cleaned as part of their morning routine, and he considered their housing suitable for workhorses.

He has never treated the horses for foot rot, mud fever or staph, Garrity said, which would be expected from constant standing in mud, nor would he consider the animals to have been “tortured.”

Diamond pointed out February was a wet month, and rain was recorded Feb. 2, 4 and 5, and Garrity said he considered it “underhanded” to have written a citation for not removing manure during wet weather.

“There is always going to be an odor (at a horse barn),” Garrity said. “When the ground is wet, urine is not going to be absorbed.”

Likewise, the veterinarian said it would become very evident very quickly if manure wasn’t being removed because carriage horses can produce as much as 20 pounds of manure a day.

“Based on the volume those horses produce, those lots would all be full at 2.5 tons (of manure) a month,” Garrity said.

Meyers testified there are eight horses on the lot.

Meyers also testified that the lot has since had some work done and has since drained.

Vines did not testify.

Judge Tony Heidelberg found Vines guilty on the charge of having an unsanitary housing for animals, for which the statute specifically mentions odors.

The evidence for an animal cruelty charge, however, did not meet the statutory requirements for a conviction, Heidelberg said.

“It is great and wonderful that the stables and conditions of the poop are better,” Heidelberg said. “I have passed by there in my day-to-day travels, and I have seen a lot of mud and manure.

“I am going to urge the defendant to keep the property up, the odor down and the conditions of the stable suitable for the horses.”

Vines has until June 16 to pay his fines.