Itawamba County Sheriff: ‘No excuse’ for animal cruelty

By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times

“When I brought this horse home, it was so weak it was laying down in the trailer and couldn’t stand,” said Kenneth Knight, patting the thin, bony horse on the side of its neck. The animal kept grazing on the grass of Knight’s front lawn.

“My wife and I have worked many hours feeding it and babying it,” he continued. “You have to watch it when it gets that starved. If you let it loose, it’ll eat until it kills itself … Now it’s got a little belly on it and is strong enough to run across the pasture.”

The horse is one of six malnourished animals recently seized by the Itawamba County Sheriff’s Department. Knight, a retired deputy, has been caring for these animals at the request of Itawamba County Sheriff Chris Dickinson, helping bring them back to full health before, hopefully, adopting them to loving homes across Itawamba County. It’s a job he’s been doing for years and one he’s glad to perform, but hates that he has to.

“I’ve worked and rode horses all my life, and it bothers me that these people let horses get this bad,” Knight said. “We’re going to have to start locking some of these folks up to get their attention.”

Knight said these horses are evidence of a growing trend in the area — animal neglect and abuse. Horses, in particular, are often the victims of neglect as they can be bought cheaply. Caring for them, however, is another story.

“A lot of people get these horses cheap and don’t know anything about them,” Knight said. “What people don’t realize is that on typical, Itawamba County soil, you can only carry one horse on one to three acres of land. If you’ve got under that, you’re going to have to supplement it with hay to keep that horse healthy.

“People will put a little pen around their house trailers and put four or five horses in it,” Knight added.

According to Sheriff Dickinson, cases involving animal abuse and neglect are taken very seriously. In addition to the horses under Knight’s care, the sheriff’s department recently seized several abused dogs, a crime for which Dickinson said there is “no excuse.”

“Domesticated animals don’t know how to take care of themselves and since they can’t, they wind up dying,” he said. “There’s no excuse for starving a dog. There are too many animal shelters or people who will take a dog in. I’ve never understood that.”

Although most cases of animal abuse result in misdemeanor charges, the severity of the abuse can result in a felony charge.

Dickinson said reports of animal abuse are always investigated and that a peaceful solution is typically sought.

“Sometimes, we can talk to the owners and that cures it,” Dickinson said. “If it doesn’t, we’ll go through the justice court and seize the animals. That’s when the animal cruelty laws come into effect.”

Most of the time, the department ends up seizing these animals. But because there is no formal animal shelter in Itawamba County, it puts the department in the difficult position of trying to find homes for these animals.

Sometimes, the animals get lucky and fall under the care of people like Knight. But, it shouldn’t have to be that way. Ideally, people who purchase horses or pick up dogs have both an interest in and means to take care of them.

Unfortunately, Knight said that often just isn’t the case. He said he knows of at least 20 or so horses that he says are “on the borderline.” Knight said he’s spoken to the owners of these animals and is working to resolve the issue.

“I’d rather the owners take care of these animals, personally,” Knight said.

Adam Armour can be reached at 862-3141, by e-mailing adam.armour@journalinc.com or by visiting his blog at itawamba360.com.