An Oregon woman who allegedly left her horse outside during the winter without adequate care and shelter, causing it pain and suffering, is now being sued by the animal for more than $100,000 in damages.
It’s not every day you hear about horses taking humans to court, but in states like Oregon this sort of thing has been possible ever since 2014 when the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that animals can be victims of crime and have legally protected rights. Justice, the horse in this particular case, is listed as a plaintiff in the legal action against its former owner, and, just like a human, has a team of lawyers fighting on its behalf.
According to Justice’s legal team at the Animal Legal Defense Fund in Portland, the 8-year-old horse has suffered a great deal of pain and suffering as a result of his former owner’s neglect and is entitled to a substantial amount of money that should go toward his current and future care and medical treatments.
Last year, while in the care of its former owner, 51-year-old Gwendolyn Vercher, from Cornelius, Oregon, Justice was left outdoors during the winter, which led to him becoming emaciated and suffering from severe frostbite and skin infection. It was only after a concerned neighbor suggested the horse was in need of medical care that it was finally taken to a veterinarian.
The vet determined that the horse was emaciated and its penis had prolapsed and could not retract because it was so swollen and heavy due to severe frostbite. He concluded that Justice should either be housed in a proper stall or be rehomed. Luckily, on March 16, 2017, Sound Equine Options rescued Justice from its abusive owner and transported it to Eagle Fern Equine Hospital in Estacada, for emergency treatment.
“He was extremely emaciated — about 300 pounds below body weight for a horse — and most significantly, he suffered from penile frostbite as a result of his exposure to the cold and that was left untreated for months,” Matthew Liebman, Justice’s lawyer from the Animal Legal Defense Fund, told ABC News.
Further examination by another veterinarian revealed that the horse was also suffering from lice and rain rot, a bacterial skin infection that irritates a horse’s hair and skin. Justice was in such a bad state that doctors had to wait for two days before they could sedate it for a more thorough examination.
On July 10, 2017, Gwendolyn Vercher pleaded guilty to first-degree animal neglect and agreed to cover the expenses incurred by Sound Equine Options with the horse’s medical care, prior to July 6, 2017. KATU2 reports that she failed to do that by the set deadline of August 10, even though Vercher told ABC News that she had for his care as part of her guilty plea.
The former owner only learned about her former horse’ legal action against her recently, after being contacted by the media, and described the whole thing as “outrageous”. Justice’s lawyers are asking for over $100,000 in damages, which should go to a trust that would be used for his veterinary care, including an upcoming surgery.
“The Oregon legislature clearly established an anti-cruelty statute for the safety and protection of animals,” Sarah Hanneken, one of the attorneys representing the horse, told Oregon Live. “Victims of crimes can sue their abusers and animals are sentient beings that are recognized as victims under Oregon law. So with that premise, we’ve come to the conclusion that animals can sue their abusers and we’re confident of our stance in this case.”