A standoff between two animal-rescue groups over where to house 36 rescued horses came to a nail-biting end yesterday, with both sides forging an agreement within a whisker of a federal hearing on the matter.
After three hours of negotiations behind closed doors at U.S. District Court in Toledo, representatives for the Humane Society of Ottawa County and the Arabian Rescue Mission — a nonprofit group based in Colesville, N.J. — agreed to let the horses go to temporary foster homes in the Ottawa County area.
The horses will remain in the homes until after the April trial of their former owner, Robin Vess, on animal-cruelty charges.
The dispute over the horses arose after Ms. Vess signed ownership of the animals to the Arabian Rescue Mission on Feb. 3.
The humane society, which rescued the malnourished horses from her farm last month, has been caring for the animals at the Sandusky County Fairgrounds in Fremont.
While the Arabian Rescue Mission hoped to immediately find permanent homes for the horses, the humane society has been adamant about keeping the horses in temporary care close to Ottawa County, in case they are needed for evidence in the animal-cruelty trial.
Last week, the debate intensified after the Arabian Rescue Mission filed papers in federal court requesting an injunction to stop the humane society from “interfering” with their ownership of the horses. A hearing on that bid was canceled yesterday after the pact was reached.
Attorney Jeff Holland, who represented the humane society in the talks, played down the dispute's fierceness as he announced the agreement.
“The Arabian Rescue Mission and the humane society are all in this for the best interest of the animals,” he said. “Any disagreement that we may have had is overshadowed by our mutual interest in animal welfare.”
As part of the agreement, the rescue mission will be involved in selecting foster homes, but humane society members must inspect and approve them.
Mr. Holland said it will be up to the judge in Ms. Vess' trial to decide whether the Arabian Rescue Mission can claim permanent ownership of the horses. He said the humane society does not wish to own the horses, but the judge could choose to forfeit the animals to the state. He added that some of the horses will be moved to new foster homes as early as today.
For Terry Figueroa, president of the Arabian Rescue Mission, the agreement wasn't perfect, but it was good enough.
“Was it my vision, my goal for the horses? No. But it'll work. We'll make it work,” Ms. Figueroa said, adding she was exhausted by the hours of talks. “It's the best we can come up with.”
Shayna Roberts, an animal technician for the humane society who has been intensely involved in the negotiations and in caring for the horses, expressed similar sentiments.
“I think it's all in the best interest of the horses,” Ms. Roberts said, as she prepared to arrange transportation of the horses to their new foster homes.
One former owner of a horse rescued from Ms. Vess' farm traveled to the court with her daughter yesterday, planning to sit in on the hearing.
Teresa Field of Highland, Mich., said she had hoped to get her horse back right away, but was content that the agreement would allow the animal to go to a temporary foster home.
Ms. Field said she expected to be able to bring the horse back to her own home within three months.
“I'm definitely relieved. She's going to be with people that love her,” Ms. Field said. “I'd like to get her back right away, but this is the next best thing.”
Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at: firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6272.