Horse files lawsuit against former owner in Washington County
A horse is suing a Hillsboro-area woman for pain and suffering after the animal was mistreated and neglected for months on a local farm.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit in Washington County Circuit Court last week on behalf of Justice, an 8-year-old horse found starving and neglected on a rural Hillsboro farm last spring.
Neighbors in the 34000 block of Firdale Road, south of Hillsboro, called the Oregon Horse Rescue in March 2017 about an extremely emaciated horse on the property. The horse's owner, Gwendolyn Vercher, later pleaded guilty to first-degree animal neglect, a misdemeanor.
When the horse was rescued, it was 300 pounds underweight, according to the lawsuit. His genitals had been damaged by frostbite. The horse had lice and suffered from rain rot.
As a result of its injuries, the animal has permanent physical and psychological injuries, requiring specialized medical care, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which provides legal advocacy in animal abuse cases across the country.
"(Vercher) denied Justice adequate food and shelter for months, abandoning him to starve and freeze," according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit seeks at least $100,000 in damages, as well as damages for pain and suffering.
Natalia Lima, a spokeswoman with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, said the money will pay for the horse's ongoing medical care.
The lawsuit has another goal, Lima said. It hopes to set a precedent in Oregon courts granting animals the right to sue their abusers.
"Horses, like Justice, are intelligent animals with the capacity for rich emotional lives," said Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. "Oregon law already recognizes Justice's right to be free from cruelty — this lawsuit simply expands the remedies available when abusers violate animals' legal rights."
Formerly named Shadow, the American quarter horse-Appaloosa mix was brought to Sound Equine Options, a Troutdale horse rescue, where the animal has lived ever since.
Kim Mosiman, the organization's executive director, said the horse is unable to find a new home because of his complicated medical needs. According to the lawsuit, the animal's frostbite was so severe it will likely need partial amputation of its penis.
After pleading guilty to the misdemeanor crime, Vercher was placed on three years parole and is banned from possessing animals or livestock for five years. She was required to pay $3,700 in restitution — the cost of the horse's medical bills between March and July 2017.
Lima said the restitution isn't enough to care for the animal longterm.
"Any funds awarded to Justice through the lawsuit would be placed in a legal trust established to pay for his care," she said.
The Oregon Supreme Court has ruled in the past that animals should be considered victims in animal cruelty cases, but no court in the country has ruled that animals should have the same rights as humans to seek damages in civil lawsuits.
By Geoff Pursinger
Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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