Editor’s note: This is the final installment of a three-part series chronicling a 2020 local animal abuse incident. Public records were used to reconstruct scenes from the case.
CENTRALIA — Navea Dunn, a 15-year-old horse lover, stands in her sunny backyard petting a scarred but otherwise handsome thoroughbred bay gelding. Dunn and her mom, Genóa, adopted the horse last year, using the tattoo on his inner lip to figure out his original racing name: Mac Daddy J.
Dunn fiddles with a friendship bracelet around her wrist, where beads spell out Mac’s name. The two are close and together won a first-place jumping prize in a district competition this year.
In Dunn’s bedroom, she has a photo of what Mac looked like just months before they met: starved nearly to death, with little mane or tail hair and rain rot on his back.
Today, Mac leads a healthy life. When Dunn drops a bucket-full of grain in the grassy field, the 1,100-pound horse does a special “grain dance,” joyfully lifting his hooves and straining his neck.
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Mac was one of 13 horses seized from a Winlock property in 2020. When officials finally obtained a warrant and gained access to the parcel, they found the remains of two dead horses, one skull still decomposing under an overturned garbage can.
The Dunns, along with Jonni Cournyer, who first fostered Mac, say Lewis County officials took far too long to step in.
With an uncooperative property owner — Kelly Walker — officials say gathering evidence from outside the fence in order to press first-degree charges took time. Even so, Bill Teitzel, a supervisor with the public health department who oversees animal control, said increased staffing may have made a difference.
“I’ve often thought of how nice it’d be if we had more people to have more coverage,” Teitzel told The Chronicle.
While officials kept an eye on the 13 horses in Winlock, Teitzel said animal control was simultaneously working on six other animal seizures. Lewis County animal control, he noted, only consists of two people.
Animal control departments vary greatly from county to county. In Pierce County, for example, Animal Control Supervisor Brian Boman, along with all six of his officers, are nationally certified equine abuse investigators.
“We get a lot of training and that makes a huge difference,” Boman told The Chronicle.
The department falls under the sheriff’s office and can issue infractions for failure to provide adequate care, he said. The monetary fines can be imposed even if the offense doesn’t rise to criminal and can be issued based on something like a handwritten affidavit, Boman said.
If the abuse or neglect does rise to a criminal offense — or if officers find horses to be a one out of nine on the body condition score — “we’re getting a warrant. We’re taking the animals. Period,” Boman said.
In Grays Harbor County, Animal Control Officer Nichole Pollard is the only county-level animal control staffer. But several cities, she noted, have their own animal control officers.
“There’s days where there could be five of me and still not be enough, because our county is so vast,” she said. “And there are other days where I handle it just perfectly by myself.”
Beyond staffing, Teitzel said there was a bigger takeaway from the 2020 abuse case. And it had to do with what happened to the animals after they were taken by the county and fostered out by local volunteers.
Where Lewis County “dropped the ball,” he said, is communicating with those who fostered.
Mac Daddy J was Cournyer’s first foster animal taken from an abuse situation. But locals had told her about their experience fostering horses seized in 2016 from Jennifer Jenkins — the Onalaska woman found guilty of nine counts of animal cruelty.
“They all told me, ‘you’ll foster once and you’ll never do it again,’” Cournyer said. “The county says they don’t have money to take care of them, so they foster them out and then don’t come back. It’s like out of sight, out of mind.”
Kendra Kessler said she had a similar experience. After taking on Luke, a 4-year-old chestnut gelding who left the Winlock property severely starved, she said she was given no instructions on how to nurse the animal back from the brink of death.
When Humane Officer Alishia Hornburg — who declined to provide comment — did check in, Kessler said she received advice contradicting her own research.
“We weren’t really sure about authority, whether we had to do exactly what she said or if we could use our own judgement,” Kessler said.
Per Hornburg’s advice, Kessler said Luke was given an entire tube of dewormer. She described the equine developing a high fever, severe diarrhea, sweats and lethargy.
“She almost killed him by doing that,” Kessler said, adding that county officials didn’t check back in afterward. Despite what she was told, Kessler also said she was never reimbursed for care of the horse.
Some counties’ animal control agencies don’t foster animals from abusive situations. Since the animals are evidence of a crime, it can be a liability issue, said Boman, in Pierce County. Grays Harbor’s Pollard also said using local volunteers could be risky.
“Because then you lose a little bit of control,” she told The Chronicle. “Normally our number one priority is to have them in one place so we can put our eyes and hands on them every day.”
Using volunteers may well be a liability issue, Teitzel said. Which is why he’s looking to formulate more robust policies around fostering, so there’s consistency and volunteers know what to expect.
“Why hasn’t that happened already?” Cournyer asked. “They never checked in after I took this horse. Who’s to say I wasn’t as bad as Kelly Walker?”
One idea Teitzel has for the future is to create a volunteer corps in Lewis County: a group of locals with experience who could more quickly mobilize if another large seizure occurs. The county could organize trainings and ensure that foster homes are up-to-par.
What would’ve helped in 2020, said Kessler, is resources and information on how to properly care for an abused animal, “because it’s so easy to do it wrong and lose them when they could have been saved.”
Kessler’s horse, Luke — who now goes by Big Red — arrived at their new home in Oklahoma in June. Despite being skin and bones last winter, Big Red is now faster than his three herdmates and has a “very, very sweet disposition,” Kessler said.
As for Mac Daddy J, his teenage rider plans to go to jump him at state next year and win first prize.
Mac was recently visited by Cournyer, the woman who first fostered him and identified his “will to live.”
Through tears, Cournyer put her hands on Mac: “I got so lucky, because my only wish was to find somebody to love him.”