Rough riding for Colorado, Illinois horse rescue groups

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2001:
LONGMONT, Colo.; WOODSTOCK, Illinois–Two of the best-respected horse rescues in mid-America, Colorado Horse Rescue and the Hooved Animal Humane Society, have taken hard tumbles.

Colorado Horse Rescue, often internally troubled but a longtime favorite of animal rights activists, has been denounced by Rocky Mountain Animal Defense and other humane groups for poisoning prairie dogs. CHR may escape legal consequences due to conflicts in Colorado law concerning prairie dog poisoning and property rights, but there will be financial repercussions, since CHR and RMAD both mainly serve the region surrounding Denver, and are believed to have significantly overlapping bases of support.

CHR was cofounded in 1988 by Sharon Jackson and Jill Pratt as a place for law enforcement agencies to impound allegedly abused and neglected horses. It rapidly grew beyond the original mission. Both Jackson and Pratt were ousted in some of the first of a series of splits, relocations, and leadership struggles. At least three other organizations descend indirectly from CHR. Despite frequent rounds of public name-calling, no one credibly accused CHR of indifference toward the suffering of any animal until May 8, 2001, when the poisoning came to light.

CHR had occupied leased property for several years at Broomfield, near Arvada, but in mid-1999 had to move after the land was sold for development. CHR then bought 50 acres at Hygiene, near Longmont, within a designated wildlife habitat restoration area. Reported Eric Frankowski of the Longmont Daily Times-Call, “Boulder County spokesperson Jim Burrus said that as part of CHR’s land use approval, the county told the group that it had to
revegetate the dry, weed-infested land with native grasses and plants to prevent continued dust and erosion, and that it must move a resident prairie dog colony from eight acres where buildings were planned.”

During the summer of 2000, wrote Monte Whaley of the Denver Post, “The Colorado Division of Wildlife spent more than $2,300 reseeding 35 acres of the property with native grasses and trees for prairie dogs, rabbits, and other small animals.” Volunteers from WildAid and RMAD reportedly helped with the work. However, in early May 2001 the volunteers learned that CHR had hired an exterminator to kill the prairie dogs.

“Twenty concerned citizens assembled at the location and unearthed some 200 burrows,” RMAD recounted, “pulling out poison-soaked crumpled newspapers stuck into the holes and covered with rocks and soil. Aluminum phosphide, the suspected agent, causes animals to bleed internally and die in excruciating pain over the course of several hours while trapped underground. It appears that no prairie dogs survived.”

CHR reportedly tried unsuccessfully to have the would-be rescuers charged with trespassing, while Boulder County warned CHR that the poisoning could bring revocation of their land use permit.

Hooved Animals

The Hooved Animal Humane Society of Illinois, located in the Chicago suburb of Woodstock, did not formally fire founder Donna Ewing and remove her from the board of directors until June 6, when she was also ordered to vacate her home on the society’s 26-acre premises by July 6, but a messy succession struggle had already been underway for several months. On April 9 Ewing sued, seeking ouster of the board and $500,000 in compensatory damages. Three weeks later the board put Ewing on paid administrative leave.

“In the suspension letter,” wrote Chicago Tribune reporter Carolyn Starks, “board members allege that Ewing copied society membership and contributor lists to start a competing group, used organization supplies for mailings that denigrated board members, and used group funds to buy office supplies and equipment and have them delivered to her home.” Ewing, paid $75,000 a year, was reportedly offered a $60,000-a-year salary as a consultant if she would voluntarily resign.

The Hooved Animal Humane Society of Illinois, the inspiration for Hooved Animal Humane Societies in several other midwestern states, had long been among the most most stable
organizations in horse rescue. Ewing, 66, and her daughter Ronda formed the Hooved Animal Humane Society, of Illinois, in 1971.

Ewing won the respect of peers and law enforcement in part by tangling repeatedly with stable owners Silas and George Jayne, and Kenneth Hansen, a former employee of Silas Jayne. They were the reputed founders of a ring formed to kill deliberately overvalued
horses to collect insurance payments. Silas Jayne, who died in 1987, was convicted in 1971 of conspiring to murder George Jayne. James A. Blottiaux, 56, was sentenced in September 1999 to serve 100 years in prison for killing Cheryl Ann Rude, 22, with a car bomb, while attempting to kill George Jayne on behalf of Silas Jayne. Hansen was convicted in 1995 of killing three Chicago boys in 1954, after sexually assaulting one of them. A fourth member of the ring, Richard Bailey, was convicted in the 1977 disappearance of animal welfare patron Helen V. Brach. At least 25 ring members and clients were eventually convicted of committing horse-related arsons and fraud.

Fought SHARK

However, while Ewing distinguished herself with one choice of enemies, she harmed the Hooved Animal Humane Society with a dismissive attitude toward animal rights activism–and especially toward SHARK, founded as the Chicago Animal Rights Coalition. SHARK initially clashed with Ewing over the propriety of accepting money from benefit animal roasts. Annual pork roasts were held by Hooved Animal Humane Society supporters until Ewing began accepting potbellied pigs for care and rehoming, as well as horses.  Since then the roasts have featured beef.

The conflict escalated when SHARK challenged the use of electroshock at local rodeos held in part to benefit police officers’ associations. Ewing defended the rodeos.

Neither the benefit roasts nor Ewing’s position on rodeo were directly involved in her ouster, but several longtime Hooved Animal Humane Society volunteers and supporters mentioned to ANIMAL PEOPLE and other news media that Ewing’s perspectives on animal protection
issues and interagency cooperation were behind the times. Some stated specifically that the Hooved Animal Humane Society should have been aligned with SHARK.

More immediate concerns included economic accountability, conflicts over standards of care, relations with staff and volunteers, and a claim Ewing allegedly made that she was authorized by Illinois law to inspect horses on private property without a warrant. As protection against warrantless search and seizure is enshrined within the U.S. Constitution, this was seen as exposing the Hooved Animal Humane Society to lawsuit. Lydia Miller, DVM, was hired to succeed Ewing as Hooved Animal Humane Society executive director.

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