Councillor justifies West Hants horse shooting

Carole Morris-Underhill
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Residents explain horses held them 'prisoners' in their own homes

The majority of horses that called the Fundy Gypsum property in Sweets Corner home were relcated earlier in 2014.

The RCMP may have concluded their investigation into the shooting death of a wild horse in Hants County without pressing charges but the issue is far from dead and buried.

Folks have taken to social media in an effort to discuss the death and try to find some answers. Through that process, there have been many allegations — something that West Hants Deputy Warden Gary Cochrane felt compelled to address at the council's latest meeting.

Cochrane added a presentation on wild horses to the May 27 committee of the whole agenda as a last minute item.

When it came time to speak on the subject, Cochrane began by acknowledging the RCMP investigated and cleared him of wrongdoing in the shooting death of a horse in Sweets Corner.

The horse in question was from Ralph Morash's 'wild' herd. Cochrane said the comments people are making about him, and those who live in the area where the horses roamed free, are unfounded and based on misinformation.

“This problem didn't just start yesterday. It started in 1984,” said Cochrane, noting that as the years went by and the herd multiplied, frustrations mounted for the residents of Cochrane Lane.

He noted that the issue progressively got worse since 1998, as young stallions would be kicked out of the herd in the spring, only to make their way onto the neighbouring properties. The horses would stay until late fall.

Although several of these unwelcome visitors were corralled and relocated over the years, by 2011, Cochrane said the issue was spiralling out of control. Morash was requested to remove his herd from the Fundy Gypsum property, which is where the herd had been roaming freely for decades. Fencing had fallen into disrepair. The nearby residents were fearful the rogue horses would injure someone.

“As a result, in the last year or so, we have become prisoners in our own homes,” said Cochrane.

The deputy warden said the horses would defecate on their doorsteps and sleep near their homes. He alleged one of the horses pinned his wife against a car. The residents were also frightened the horses would wander onto the nearby roadway and cause a traffic accident.

“The neighbours were really getting up in arms because we were afraid we were going to bury a child or bury a human being,” said Cochrane.

Debbie Francis and Brian Hamilton, both Cochrane Lane property owners, spoke at the meeting to explain what a strain living near untamed horses has been.

“This has been an ongoing problem. It's not as cut and dry as it looks and we're not the bad people that everyone is making us out to be. We have done everything we have been able to do,” said Francis.

As the owner of four horses, Francis said the issue “got out of hand” for her in 2009.

“I had a horse home on stall rest who had a broken foot, who had screws in and needed to be in a stall calmed down,” said Francis. However, there was a wild horse outside the barn that wouldn't leave, causing undue stress to her recuperating animal.

As the wild horses would stay for months at a time, Francis said she couldn't leave her horses outside for fear of what would happen to them. She noted a stallion damaged her fencing in an effort to mate with one of her ponies.

Hamilton said he has allowed Morash to travel across his property in order to feed the horses in the wintertime. He's also tried to help relocate the animals.

“Ralph and I have spoken on numerous occasions. I've worked with Ralph to try and deal with the problem,” said Hamilton, noting that on two occasions, a fellow farmer helped corral some problem horses and take them away.



Municipal involvement

Cochrane said he was in contact with West Hants' CAO and bylaw enforcement officer trying to get the issue resolved. Canadian Gypsum Corporation, Fundy Gypsum's parent company, was alerted to the situation, as were several provincial departments and agencies.

In November 2013, the Department of Natural Resources issued a permit to possess a firearm in wildlife habitat.

According to the permit, which was originally issued to Gary Lunn, the municipality's bylaw enforcement officer, it was for the purpose of “shooting wild horses” with a .270 Remington, 303 British rifle. The permit was valid from Nov. 12, 2013 until Dec. 31, 2013. Al Bland, from the Windsor branch of the Department of Natural Resources, signed the permit. It was later noted the name on the permit should have read Cochrane instead of Lunn.

“In 2012, it was getting more serious all the time. There was an effort from the municipal office here to tranquilize one, at quite a considerable expense,” said Cochrane, in an effort to explain to council the events leading up to the shooting.

“And as a result, that horse was, I might say, literally filled with darts. And it never slowed down a bit. It just drank them, and became stressed of course,” said Cochrane.

Cochrane said the animal was “going to suffer an agonizing death” so he tracked it through the woods to try and find it.

“I did not want to see it suffer. I am an animal lover myself,” he said.

Hamilton said he spoke with Morash after the animal was killed.

“I wanted to assure him that the horse we put down had been put down humanely. Which it had been,” said Hamilton, later noting, “...I'm going to say, unequivocally, the horse was put down properly with no pain, no suffering.”

“...I'm going to say, unequivocally, the horse was put down properly with no pain, no suffering.” Brian Hamilton

Hamilton said the horse was buried on Fundy Gypsum property.



Resident expresses concerns

Gena Arthur, one of the driving forces behind the recent relocation efforts of the horses, requested a full investigation into the shooting when she was granted permission to speak at the end of the meeting May 27.

“When it comes to animals being at large, there’s always potential for danger. My concern is not saying that any of those dangers didn't exist or didn't happen, but it's the way the matter is dealt with that I am concerned with,” said Arthur.

The local woman, who has been researching the events leading up to and following the shooting of the horse, questioned the municipality's actions, including whether the horse's death was necessary.

One such anomaly that she pointed out was that a veterinarian was contacted for advice regarding how to humanely euthanize a horse in 2012. However, the horse wasn't shot and killed until late 2013.

Arthur became involved in the herd's relocation efforts once the media published reports indicating there were plans to cull the entire herd.

“I was upset to hear what was happening with the residents. I was upset with the way the municipality was handling the situation, and we resolved the situation in a very short time,” she said.

With a team of four people, Arthur said 12 of the horses were rounded up and removed from the site. The remaining two were in foal. Plans are now in the works to have them relocated. None of the animals, or the volunteers, sustained any injuries in the move, she said.

“So I think that right there proves this idea of not being able to catch them being a falsity,” she said.

Arthur stressed to council that the horses are not wild or feral, but rather unhandled, like cows and sheep that spend their days grazing in a pasture.

In light of the controversy surrounding the horses, Arthur wants answers.

“I think there should be a full investigation into the conduct of the people that were involved in this whole situation.”


Organizations: RCMP, Department of Natural Resources, Canadian Gypsum Corporation Fundy Gypsum

Geographic location: Hants County, Windsor, West Hants Hants West Nova Scotia Wentworth Road Sweets Corner Cochrane Lane

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Recent comments

  • halchka
    December 08, 2014 - 09:22

    If they can "tase" humans to death...shoot family dogs big surprise here! My opinion on all of these goings on is not something I can state publically.

  • 99
    June 28, 2014 - 19:10

    Sickening what people try to get away with, another situation where someones "status" is used to save their a$$. I hope he receives some sort of disciplinary action. If it was anyone else using another persons permit, it wouldnt stand!!!!!

  • lifetimer
    June 04, 2014 - 14:32

    Having lived in Hants all my life, I know how passionate we are to help our neighbours. When the story first came out about the necessity to remove this beautiful herd, as expected, people dove right in offering to do whatever they could...even to do coffee runs for those "saddling up" to move the herd. This is not unusual for us and anyone who has lived here more than a few months would feel that. My biggest (and most heartbreaking) question is - why were the issues of the fencing/stallions/roaming not put forth to this community? All of the people involved... residents, councillors, etc have been an obvious part of this community. As was proven - when our neighbours need help, we're there. Shooting a farm animal queitly grazing on what they would only know to be their home....that's sickening. Covering it up with protests instead of acknowledging their wrongdoing/mistake....also sickening BECAUSE all it has done is led to a division of community and as a public servant representing this community, that is the worst offense.

    • Vicky Johnson
      June 04, 2014 - 21:45

      great response - if the people on the street were really in need - my guess is they would have discussed it and done something else......

    • Vicky Johnson
      June 04, 2014 - 21:47

      great response - if the people on the street were really in need - my guess is they would have discussed it and done something else......

  • RA
    June 03, 2014 - 18:41

    Charges could definitely be laid in this animal cruelty case. The RCMP have to start doing their job and stop showing favouritism. You can not use a permit to discharge a firearm that is in another persons name. I would also think that you would need a special permit or training to purchase and use a tranquilizer gun. The training obviously was not given, or the animal would not have suffered so much. The people involved in this case of animal cruelty should be brought to justice. This act was legally and morally wrong.

  • Puzzled
    June 03, 2014 - 11:32

    As a former Hants County Resident (with family still residing in the area), I always read the Hants Journal to keep updated in local news. This story has been one that I have followed for many months now. There are so many unanswered questions: 1) who tried to tranquilize the horse 2) what is the timeline between tranquilizing the horse and shooting it 3) how is it legal for one person to use another's permit 4) since when does a local elected politician become the local animal control officer 5) where are the other authorities/departments in this matter in regards to the complaints of the local residents and the problems with these animals. So many unanswered questions.

  • Impressed Citizen
    June 02, 2014 - 21:44

    I did not see the permit, did you? I am speaking for myself, interesting to see you have become the spokesperson for all of Hants County. I believe he acted as a person who tried several avenues to keep his property a safe place to enjoy. If my animal were running around the neighbourhood, making people feel unsafe, and not properly cared for (meaning spayed or neutered in the case of my dog) no regular vet care and possibly carrying disease, you bet someone would take it upon themselves to get rid of him. And I would be at fault! For owning an animal and not caring for it properly. Owning an animal is a responsibility, not a right! And as for the incorrect name on the documents, mistakes do happen. You and so many others can't wait to jump on someone for what you consider an appalling action. Guess what? I'm still clapping because I can't say I would not have done the same had I been in a similar situation with my home and family.

    • Leah Rissesco
      June 03, 2014 - 15:55

      Yes I did see the permit. You appear to be the spokes person for this situation, what did you say your name is? Not one single person has denied that there was a serious issue on that road. It's the manner in which it was handled that makes it a serious question of weather or not it was misconduct. There are agencies and officers that we pay for things like this. The local DW isn't one of them.

  • BS
    June 02, 2014 - 16:51

    Who was the incompetent idiot who kept shooting the horse to the point it had to be euthanized? I sure hope this wasn't a vet.

    • Leah Rissesco
      June 03, 2014 - 15:58

      There were no professional involved at all. No reports have been made available.

  • Impressed citizen
    June 02, 2014 - 15:50

    It's nice to see this writing appear with so many unbiased facts that have not been printed before amongst rumours and speculation. I applaud Gary Cochrane for bringing this up at a public meeting and proving that he in fact had legal paperwork to shoot this horse. When it comes down to the safety of ones family and neighbours from an animal that is considered wild and not controlled by its owner I feel this was justified. It is sad however, that something wasn't done sooner to prevent this from happening.

    • Leah Rissesco
      June 02, 2014 - 17:51

      Did you see the permit in question? It wasn't in his name. It was made out to the municipality and the By-law officer who had not been there for two months. A disclaimer is attached six months later noting it was a mistake. I can't hunt with my husbands permit and vice versa. A Councillor went beyond his position of instructing staff, to executing the duties of staff. He assumed their responsibilities. There were no DNR Officers present to witness the dispatch of a nuisance animal. There was no one from DOA , or a Vet to confirm the animal was ill and dispatch was necessary, or from the SPCA. Suppose it was one of your animals that someone decided needed to be "gotten rid of" and all possible agencies who should have been there had no report. One person took it upon themselves to have at it. Still clapping ? You may be Impressed and that's your right, but, the rest of the county is Appalled!

    • Citizen
      June 04, 2014 - 22:11

      If the legal paperwork was not in his name then it had/has zero validity. I cannot purchase a firearm with someone else's PAL, nor can I drive with someone else's license. How there was no law broken is beyond me. This whole story has to many unanswered questions. Why was the west hants employee who's job it is to deal with animal control not the one doing the shooting? Why was the license in his name though? Who supposedly shot this horse with tranquillizers, and if so why were they ineffective? Was this person trained to use them? And then we are supposed to believe that despite the fact they were ineffective in sedating the horse, it still put the horse in such a state of irreversible agony that it had to be shot? And why is it that a vet was consulted on how to euthanize a horse long before the shooting? I can sympathize with the residents that had to deal with this situation, I would not put up with animals threatening my home or family either. But regardless, the proper protocols must be followed. We should expect more from our elected officials, and the inconsistencies in the story given are typical of our elected officials in this area. I hope we ge some answers, this whole story stinks.

  • Annie Rose
    June 02, 2014 - 13:09

    Another successfully executed, brilliant plan by the Municipality....NOT! Fire service is next YE-HA!

    • John
      June 03, 2014 - 13:47

      Let's keep the issues separate. One has nothing to do with the other. Come on. I think this was out of line.

    • Annie Rose
      June 03, 2014 - 20:05

      Makes no difference what the topic is, it's the same Wild West Hants cowboys.