Deaths of miniature horses raise concerns about roaming dogs
WILLISTON — Muffy Seaton will never forget the morning of July 10 at Shepherd's Purse, the 100-acre farm on Whittle Pond Road that she operates with her husband, Doug.
All seemed well until Seaton saw three miniature horses lying in their small paddock.
“I thought it was a strange time for them to be sleeping,” she recalled earlier this week.
Seaton wandered closer just to make sure that everything was OK. But it soon became clear that her beloved animals were the victims of a vicious attack that they had not survived.
“Their throats had been ripped out, and their ears had been chewed off, Seaton said. “It was absolutely horrifying. They were like members of my family, and I hadn't been able to keep them safe.”
Seaton thought the culprits were dogs, and Aiken County Animal Control representatives, who are still investigating incident, confirmed her suspicion.
“Coyotes normally kill just what they are going to eat, and they don't leave it lying there without eating off of it,” said Bobby Arthurs, who is Animal Control's chief enforcement officer. “The ears that were chewed also were telltale signs that domestic dogs did it.”
So far, according to Arthurs, Animal Control hasn't found the hard evidence it needs to identify the dogs that are responsible.
Seaton, who believes the dogs live nearby, didn't actually see them kill her horses and doesn't have any photographs to prove it.
“About two weeks before it happened, my husband and I were out in Oregon,” Seaton said. “The woman who feeds for us arrived out here one day with her husband and saw three dogs in the field chasing my sheep.”
In addition, dogs have caused trouble at neighboring farms. During February's ice storm, resident Kat Leaphart said her 31-year-old Morgan mare was attacked by three dogs. They bit the mare's chest, face and legs and ripped the blanket she was wearing. They also wounded a mule that is the mare's son.
“Two years ago, there was a quarter horse around here that suffered major damage when it was attacked by dogs,” said Seaton, who is well-known in the sport of carriage driving as a competitor, horse trainer, judge and instructor.
In an effort to protect Shepherd's Purse's remaining equine residents, Seaton and her husband have put up game cameras and set traps, one of which belongs to Animal Control.
“What I want is people to be more responsible for their dogs,” Seaton said. “When things like this happen, it's not the dogs' fault, it's their owners' fault. It's important for them to supervise their dogs, because when left to their own devices, dogs don't always make the best decisions.”
Later this month, Seaton plans to attend a meeting of Aiken County Council to discuss the issue of dogs running loose.
“I want the penalties to be stricter,” she said.
In South Carolina, it is unlawful for an owner or manager of domestic animals to let the creatures run at large beyond the limits of the land he owns, leases, occupies or controls. Violators are subject to a fine for each offense of not more than $25 or can be imprisoned for not more than 25 days.
Animal Control is “pretty busy this time of year enforcing the law,” Arthurs said. “Usually, it's because the animals are being a nuisance by tearing up trash or by being repeatedly found at large. Most of the issues we've had with animals attacking other animals involve chickens being killed. It's not common for miniature horses to be attacked. I can't remember the last time that it happened.”
To stop problems from occurring, Arthurs recommended contacting Animal Control whenever a dog is spotted running loose while not on its owner's property.
“When dogs are at large, they are going to travel, and they do get into things,” he said. “Let's work on prevention instead of having to figure out what happened after the fact.”
To report roaming dogs, call 803-642-1537.
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard.