Jefferson Parish officials intended to hold an informational session — a refresher course, with room for some public input — on barn and stable conditions in the parish on Nov. 28, but the meeting quickly turned into a gripe session by horse owners upset with the parish for intensifying code enforcement efforts.
Last year, concerns about equine safety and care peaked when humane officers seized more than a dozen horses (and several more this year) on the West Bank and saw the prosecution of Cheryl Brown for cruelty after the parish seized her three emaciated horses. (See "Reigning in Abuse," Aug. 2, 2011.)
The session in the parish Council Chamber in Gretna fell into mild chaos as an audience of dozens of horse and livestock owners blasted recently hired parish shelter director Robin Beaulieu and humane officer Tracy Borne. Many of the owners claimed Beaulieu and Borne have blown conditions at private barns and stables out of proportion.
Meeting attendees were handed a letter from the animal shelter outlining eight "commonly cited violations" in the parish. Among them were horses without clean access to water, injured and underweight horses, stalls inches deep in excrement, and barns in disrepair. Beaulieu also introduced a new permit process — commercial stables must pay $100 for proper permits, though the parish's definition of "commercial" extends to any stables on leased property — dubbed "commercial" because the leaseholder doesn't own the property and the property owner isn't using it for "personal use."
"We don't need a list of how to care for our horses," said Melvin Estell, secretary of the Dirty South Riders, a group of riders frequently appearing in Carnival parades. "We need y'all to go after the Cheryl Browns."
Dirty South Riders and other riding groups — including Wild West Rangers, Buffalo Soldiers, West Bank Riders and Louisiana Riders — maintain horses and stables on the West Bank. Steven Blanco, founder of the Dirty South Riders, was one of many who accused the parish of trying to run stables out of Jefferson, but Loren Marino, who oversees code enforcement for the parish, said that's not true.
Beaulieu told the crowd that the parish wants to keep horses in Jefferson, but it wants to work with owners to help them care for the animals — at which point the crowd boomed that the horse owners can take care of themselves. "We just want you to comply," said code enforcement director Tiffany Wilkin. "We want the same thing."
When several attendees asked to hear Borne's equine health credentials, the crowd grew impatient and many left early. "I can't see anyone here that can help us," one owner said, while others shouted that the new shelter administration was doing a poor job, then left. The remaining attendees approached Beaulieu directly. "This is a first step. There were some valid questions raised tonight," she said. As the room cleared, Marino said the parish may hold another meeting — possibly in January before Carnival events kick off. — Alex Woodward