Horse owner fights back against accusations

FREEPORT – Gloria Woods and Kenneth Feister, owners of two horses removed from their property by the Harrison County Humane Society, say they did not abuse their animals and argue against claims made by humane officer Darla Smith.

The horses, named Bunny and Sugar, were taken away through a warrant on June 14, after visits from Smith. Smith has said previously that, at her three visits, the horses did not have food and their water was dirty.

However, Woods counters this claim.

“Never was it about food or water, which my horses always had plenty of” she said via email. “Never once has Darla ever been where we keep the horse’s food supply.”

Woods says that Smith’s visits concerned the health of only one horse, Bunny. Woods and Feister do not deny that Bunny was in poor health. However, they do maintain that they were working on getting her healthy, and that they received her in poor health from a previous owner. They had been in possession of Bunny for less than two weeks before the first Humane Society visit. Sugar was reportedly in good health.

Both parties are standing their ground. Smith said by phone on Thursday that the visits were in fact about food and general maintenance of the horses.

“I initially went out there and saw that horse [Bunny]. We discussed worming the horses…then I thought what if it’s a medical issue. I was out there three times and they had nothing to eat, so it was a food issue,” Smith stated.

Woods believes the case has become personal, and is not just about the horses. A warrant was filed for on June 11 by Smith, after Woods made contact with a woman known to her as Sue Nichols. (Smith allegedly knows the woman as Sue Howell.) Woods says that Smith had requested she and Feister write statements about Nichols, so that she could “go after” her for an allegedly abused pony. Woods also makes the claim that Smith encouraged them to help her because Nichols was allegedly the one who made the initial call about Bunny and Sugar to the Humane Society. Woods called Nichols to try to establish truths, and says it was this action that caused Smith to become angry and file for a warrant, five days after her last visit to the Feister property.

“I’m tired of the lies. I’m sick of our names being drug in the ground when we [were] doing the right thing, taking care of a horse that desperately needed it,” Woods added. “Anyone seeing all facts knows [we were] getting Bunny the help she needed before Bunny was even given to [us] on March 25th, 2014.”

Another matter of contention is the previous owner of the horse. Woods claims that Smith initially lied about knowing the woman, but later acknowledged that her property is used to place animals seized by the Humane Society.

Woods went on to say that Smith delayed the process of getting veterinary care for Bunny.

“I could have had Bunny in sooner to the vet if Darla didn’t hold it up by insisting that her vet see Bunny,” Woods said. Screenshots of text messages show that Smith’s chosen veterinarian cancelled on Woods and Feister. Woods also claims Smith’s chosen veterinarian required $200 in cash upfront. When Woods scheduled her own appointment for a different veterinarian, she says Smith wanted to be on hand for the visit.

“Bunny was under vet care and every text message states that and shows proof,” said Woods. “So I don’t know where this starving came in at. Bunny ate more than Sugar and Sugar is pretty healthy. If Darla Smith says that these two horses [were] starved, sad to say she had better go grab everyone’s horses here in Freeport.”

Smith counters the vet claim as well.

“They had no veterinarian, and they kept repeatedly telling me that they couldn’t get anyone to come out, so I suggested that they use mine. She handles my Humane Society cases for the most part, so I knew that she would come.”

The issue has become complicated and back-and-forth arguments from both sides remain obstinate. Both parties contest nearly every claim made by the other. However, the matter will undoubtedly be settled soon in court. A hearing has been set for Feister and Woods on July 21, concerning a charge of cruelty to animals.

“Obviously they don’t have an attorney,” Smith said. “I can’t believe if they had one that they would still be permitted to try to cause havoc.”

Warner may be reached at mwarner@timesleaderonline.com.