by Josh Magill; Special to the Mountain News
Tempers flared and feelings were hurt this past week over the recent seizure of 39 horses from a Graham farm that officials said contained “deplorable conditions.” Many area residents are incensed that one more site of tragic animal abuse has been discovered while others are dismayed with another governmental seizure of private property.
An Internet search will turn up many posts supporting both sides of the argument, and Pat Wagner, a life-long area resident and equine farrier in Thurston County for over fifteen years, understands the reasons for such passions.
“I’m not sure I could live without horses,” comments Wagner. “And when someone decides to hurt an innocent animal, it upsets me and hurts my heart.”
The horses in the seizure were taken during a raid on Wednesday, September 26, at the home of Dr. John and Tina Diller, who have not yet been charged with any crime. The Pierce County Auditor, Julie Anderson says that animal control officers are working to build a case against the couple before possibly filing multiple counts of second-degree animal cruelty, a gross misdemeanor.
The horses comprise the largest-ever horse seizure by the county, and they are now being housed at the Pierce County Fairgrounds as evidence for the animal abuse case. But it was during the summer of 2008 that Wagner had her first experiences with a horse from the Diller farm, and she did not like what she saw as she encountered a Belgian draft stallion named Spencer.
“He was an unhandled, previously abused draft stallion,” stated Wagner, who is certified hoof specialist with the American Hoof Association (AHA) and the Pacific Hoof Care Practitioners (PHCP). Wagner is also head of the Rainier Equine Hoof Recovery Center, a federally recognized non-profit rescue facility.
“At some point while he was there, Spencer’s halter came off his head and no one could catch him. He was virtually untouched for two years.”
Wagner’s experience with Spencer began with an ad the Diller’s placed on Craigslist in 2008 stating: “If you can catch him you can have him.”
The horse was wild and in need of medical attention, but nobody seemed to be worried about that. Instead, he was sought for breeding purposes. After the stallion was finally caught by a breeder who responded to the Diller’s ad and has presently asked for anonymity, Spencer was placed into a pasture with another stallion despite warnings from horse experts. The situation proved explosive, and a violent and dangerous fight broke out between the two horses, causing the breeder’s family to require Spencer’s removal.
Just a few weeks after Spencer was taken from the Diller farm, Wagner took possession of the horse from his new owners, who were unable to care adequately for the horse.
“If we hadn’t stepped up, he would likely have gone to auction, where large dangerous horses are sent to slaughter,” writes Wagner on her organization’s web site. “We took him and as we do for all the horses that come here, we got right to work on a plan for him.”
Wagner first gelded the young Spencer, than began working on his hoof and leg issues, plus the lice that covered his coat.
“[He had] abscessing, flared and untreated injuries,” Wagner says. “I don’t think I’ve seen hooves as damaged as his were, and I have seen many neglected ones. His hooves are still a huge challenge. The years of neglect caused chronic abscessing. Even these days, he deals with hoof pain from the frequent abscesses.”
Spencer’s story relates to the recent confiscation as it may show as pattern of neglect by the Dillers.
In addition, Wagner speaks of phone threats from the Dillers, along with Internet insults and harassment.
“They didn’t feel I was caring for him as well as they were,” Wagner told The Mountain News by email. “That was an excuse to keep people from thinking ill of them and their treatment of him. My fear was that to end the brouhaha over Spencer, they might actually just come and shoot him. It was a scary time.”
The initial press release last week from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office said most of the confiscated horses were kept in barns that had large amounts of urine and feces in the stalls and some of the barns had no lighting or ventilation. Videos on local television stations seemed to show varying evidence.
This sparked many comments from folks online – from Facebook to Twitter – saying that removing the creatures was the right thing to do, even looking for ways to donate money or help muck barn stalls. Others, like long-time Spanaway resident Marianne Lincoln, are saying this is a shocking act of tyranny by the County and other law enforcement agencies against due process.
“There needs to be opportunities for cases like this to be cited before animals are taken,” said Lincoln on her Pierce Prairie Post Facebook page. “These animals are not as sick or ill-tended as the County is alleging. People with farms need to be reassured that there is a process in place and they can be notified to make corrections before this kind of operation happens. It’s too expensive for the taxpayers this way, too.”
Dr. Diller has stated through his lawyer, Lance Hester, he will fight for the return of his horses.
Nevertheless, when Wagner was told about the confiscation of 39 horses from the Diller farm, it drudged up some negative memories, but has not deterred her from continuing efforts to help neglected and abused horses.
“Spencer went through hell, as did most of the other horses it sounds like. I’m glad [those horses] are getting help now and that he got out when he did.”
© 2012 Josh Magill