Enumclaw: WA – One month and almost $2,500 later, Runaway Ray is finally back where he started – in the hands of the loving family who found him.
What should have been a done deal – a lost pony gets lucky and finds a new owner – turned into an expensive, emotional and time consuming ordeal after Ray’s rescuers called Pierce County Animal Control. Washington state considers ponies as livestock and the laws are not what you might expect.
On April 11th, a lost, elderly equine was wandering down a 2-lane country road in Lakebay, Washington when he was spotted by Mary Kate Fowler and her neighbors. Concerned he was in trouble, they caught him and brought him back to Fowler’s. She had two horses, goats and a sheep and Ray fit right in to an extra stall. “He was in really bad shape,” she said. “There was a sore on his back, his eye was pussy and swollen, and he looked mangy.”
That’s when Ray’s great misadventure truly began.
In Washington state, horses and ponies are considered livestock by law and treated differently than domestic pets. Unlike a dog or cat who could be put up for adoption for a nominal fee at the shelter, stray livestock are required to be sent to a live public auction. If a bidder does not come forward to save them, they are sent to slaughter in Mexico and Canada.
Responding to her call, Pierce County Animal Control took him from Fowler saying she wasn’t a licensed rescue. “We were all really upset,” she said. In addition to losing Ray she said animal control didn’t have the proper transport for him. “They didn’t have a trailer. They tied him in a van with metal plating.”
A spokesman from the Pierce County Auditor’s office disagreed, “Our animal control officers are nationally certified in equine rescue, cruelty, and have extensive experience with transporting horses. Yes we did transport him in a van. It was done safely and without incident.”
Ray was taken to the Tacoma Equine Hospital and was off limits to the public and the media.
Mike Louisell, a spokesman for the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), explained that Pierce County Animal Control had no choice. When an animal is found running at large either the local jurisdiction or the sheriff is obligated to take possession of it. They are required by law to call the WSDA whose brand inspectors will try and find the owner. If the owner can’t be located the animal heads to the livestock auction.
Ray’s big day came on May 9th at the Enumclaw Sale Pavilion. In front of a crowd of about 60 people, the 16-year-old Shetland pony was led into the public auction ring by 10-year-old Blake Neuman, in-between sales of plants, poultry, rabbits, calves and large steers. Eight people from the Key Penninsula Facebook page and a woman from Canada pooled their money for Ray’s rescue sale. They, and many others, expected an older pony like Ray would go for $50-$100.
Auctioneer and owner of the Enumclaw Sale Pavillion, Ron Mariotti, introduced Ray as “a pretty nice horse” and started the bid at $500. There were no takers.
Mariotti quickly dropped it down to $100 and in “auctioneer-ese” let the bidding begin in rapidly rolling numbers.
Fowler and several friends were desperate to save Ray. She raised her bidding card while others looked around for who might be bidding against them. They couldn’t see anyone.
As Mariotti’s number’s kept getting higher, Fowler’s card kept rising. He stopped at $625 calling attention to a person in the stands as being “out”.
Trouble was that person never placed a bid.
Tash Johnson who manages AuctionHorses.org, a website that tries to match up horses listed at auction with animal rescues and new owners, sat directly across from Ray’s lifesavers on the other side of the auction ring. Holding a video camera she said she was only there as a last resort in case no one bid on Ray. Instead she filmed it. When Mariotti called her out she said she resented it. “I wasn’t bidding at all. My hand never left the camera.”
When questioned Mariotti insists there were other bidders. “Why did they keep bidding if there were no other bidders?” he asks.
Fowler said later she was afraid of the consequences.”What would happen if I didn’t put my number up?”
The other person sitting in the stands that day was Washington state representative Michelle Caldier (R-Port Orchard). Hearing about Ray’s plight she researched the laws and found that once a county takes possession of an animal they can’t return it. Now she’s trying to change the law. “It doesn’t make sense. The county is putting up so much money to find storage for a horse when there’s a loving home available.”
Just how much money did they put up?
The Washington State Department of Agriculture received $3.50 for Ray’s livestock inspection and $47 for the public notice placed in the daily newspaper looking for Ray’s owner. $166 went to the Enumclaw Sales Pavilion for items such as feed, yardage, impound and entry fees, and the sales commission during Ray’s one night stay. Ray’s vet bills and boarding costs from April 14 – May 7 totaled $1,619 paid for by Pierce County Animal Control. In addition to transportation costs, and what was left of the money the neighbor’s and Fowler paid to get him back after expenses, Ray’s bill totaled $2,461.64.
Back at her home, Fowler reports that Ray is really happy and the family is relieved to have him back.
Curious about the auction? Watch the video.
Rescue Pony, Runaway Ray at Livestock Auction 2015 copyright Tash Johnson.
A PayPal account has been set up in Ray’s name. If you would like to donate money towards Ray’s care please send an email to Runaway_Ray@yahoo.comBuy Photos