Vancouver police accused of permanently injuring rare horse

Vancouver Courier

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An Okanagan Valley horse owner says the Vancouver Police Department permanently injured her rare horse earlier this year while he was being transported and tested to become part of the department’s mounted squad.

The owner, whose name was redacted from her written complaint to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, said officers returned her 2010 Shire gelding—a large male horse—on May 13 with several injuries.

The Vancouver Police Department says it has improved its policies for transportation and testing of horses being considered for its mounted squad. Photo Dan Toulgoet

“He arrived with both eyes badly swollen, bleeding from above his right eye and from his lip,” she wrote in her complaint, which goes before the Vancouver Police Board Thursday. “He had multiple abrasions on his right shoulder, face and left hip, as well as what appeared to be rub marks on either side of his mouth consistent with what I would expect to see from an ill-fitting bit. He was clearly distressed and sweating.”

The owner said her horse, which is one of 1,500 in the world and was to be sold for $9,500, was not wearing any protective equipment when returned to her, despite officers knowing he had some difficulty on his trailer ride April 27 to a Southlands stable in Vancouver.

During transport to Vancouver in April, the owner said, officers told her the horse suffered “rub marks on his face” but couldn’t confirm whether other injuries to his body occurred during the trip in the police trailer.

A few weeks later, on May 7, the owner said she received a call from an officer who told her the horse didn’t pass his veterinary exam—that he was declared unsound and would be shipped back to her, effectively ending his chances of joining the mounted squad.

“The VPD subsequently claimed that my horse is not worth his asking price, but it is my opinion that the VPD considered my horse as a ‘horse,’ rather than a rare and valued registered Shire, of which there are only 1,500 in the world,” she said.

The owner said her veterinarian examined the Shire after he returned to the farm. The veterinarian declared her horse “to be in good health, other than his injuries.”

“I find the VPD’s disregard for facts and professional judgment in this case to be repugnant,” she said, adding that she accepted “reduced terms the VPD has offered” simply to bring the situation to a close. “I cannot waste any more time and emotion on this. There is, unfortunately, no recourse for the horse, who will have to live with his injuries and blemishes for the rest of his life.”

She said her hope in filing a formal complaint was that VPD policies regarding animals in its care would be reviewed and corrected, if necessary.

“I hope,” she concluded, “that no other horse will have to endure what mine did.”

VPD response

The VPD reviewed the owner’s complaint and has rejected her claim that her horse was injured while under care of the department. In a report that goes before the police board with the owner’s complaint, the department recommends the board dismiss the complaint.

“The examination of the claim of permanent injuries sustained by the complainant’s horse has not been evident nor supported by our review,” the report said. “However, this incident identified a gap in the procedure to testing horses and documenting their condition prior to VPD members transporting them.”

The report said the two officers who picked up the horse at the Okanagan Valley farm felt he was underweight and also appeared to be in some discomfort—itching—because of a recent bout of lice.

The horse was also not shod or trimmed and did not have nailed shoes, the report said. The owner said in her complaint her horse was not to be ridden without hoof protection, which she said he was not during the trial.

The VPD report acknowledged the horse suffered minor injuries during transport from the farm and upon his return. On the trip from the farm, officers stopped to check on the horse and noticed minor abrasions on his face.

“The ride was slightly bumpy during transport due to bad road conditions, at the time, caused by flooding,” the report said. “The complainant’s horse did not fall at any time during the trip. Prior to loading, the complainant made no comments about the trailer or about concerns with the complainant’s horse travelling to Vancouver.”

The VPD vet, Dr. Robyn Kopala, determined May 7 the horse was not suitable for the mounted squad. Kopala’s assessment was based on the horse’s overall body condition—underweight and lack of muscle—and his itching because of lice.

“Dr. Kopala also determined that the complainant’s horse was lame, although she could not determine if that was coming from his feet, or higher on his body,” the report said.

When the horse was returned, the report said, the owner was “friendly with the members and made no comments about the condition of her horse.” The report acknowledges the horse “displayed some fresh minor abrasions to both sides of his face, his right shoulder and left hip.”

The report pointed out this was “the only known incident of this type” in more than 60 years that the VPD mounted unit has tested and acquired horses.

“Since this incident, every horse received for testing has been extensively researched prior to the VPD taking custody of it,” the report said. “A pre-purchase vet examination occurs before each horse is received. Video recordings offering a 360-degree view are taken every time the horse is placed in or removed from a trailer.”

The department said “professional transportation services” are now considered for instances than involve an overnight stay for officers, or for long distance travel.

The police board meets at 1 p.m. Thursday at the VPD’s Cambie Street precinct.