A loose horse on the highway is an obvious threat to vehicular traffic, but how do you deal with it? Catch the horse? Open a gate and herd it into a pasture? Both make sense if the person doing the catching or herding knows something about horses.

Shooting the horse, on the other hand, is not a solution that comes immediately to mind.

A few Fridays ago, Shane Doyle responded to a call about a horse running loose on state Highway 187. Doyle is a Lieutenant with the Sheriff’s Department in Edmonson County, a rural area in the Mammoth Cave region of Kentucky. Civilian efforts to catch the loose horse had been going on for a while, and another 20 minutes or so of fruitless chasing ensued after Lt. Doyle arrived on the scene. Finally, the officer made what he called a "very difficult decision"—he shot and killed the loose horse.

"My number one priority is keeping the people of Edmonson County safe," Lt. Doyle was quoted as saying afterward, "and I felt that that was what I was doing, and unfortunately the animal had to lose it’s (sic) life for me to keep the people safe."

My point is not to condemn Lt. Doyle for shooting a loose horse. He was the officer on site and was privy to facts not in evidence. It’s tempting, though, to ask why this particular animal posed an immediate threat to life and limb sufficient to warrant being shot. The incident calls into question the apparent lack of protocol for loose horses and it reinforces a general concern about a lack of training in basic animal handling for law enforcement personnel.

State of Affairs

One of the comments to last week’s blog about the need for animal control training officer directed me to a research paper on the subject completed in 2010 by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. (Thanks for that, Rebecca.) The six-month study, "Public and Professional Perspectives on Animal Cruelty," surveyed a cross section of law enforcement professionals. The ASPCA found, among other things, that:

● 74 % of those responding said that they received no formal training in either animal cruelty laws or protocols;

● Among those respondents who did receive training, it came through Police Academy instruction, department-supplied reference material, presentations at roll calls, workshops, or online continuing education;

● 41 % reported that they were familiar with animal cruelty laws in their states, and only 30 % said they were familiar with the penalties for animal cruelty;

● 51 % said they thought existing animal cruelty laws were too lax, while 7 % said they thought existing laws were too strict;

● Major obstacles to effective responses to animal abuse cases included low priority by leadership; lack of staff with specialized knowledge, and lack of facilities for long-term maintenance of animals kept as evidence.

● Finally, half the respondents said that they need more resources and training in recognizing and dealing with animal cruelty.

The ASPCA research surveyed mainly law enforcement personnel, many of whom said that they do not deal with abuse and neglect on a regular basis, rather than animal control officers. I’d like to think that people who deal with animals on a frequent basis would be better informed than a cop on the beat. But without minimum qualifications and mandatory training for animal control officers, who knows for sure?

One of the suggestions for improvement cited by the ASPCA study was to "get elected officials and high ranking officers engaged" in dealing with the animal abuse problem. It sounds good, but how do you do it?