STITTSVILLE — On Nov. 23, the Ontario Landowners’ Association (OLA) held a "Horse Sale of Salvation" that brought partial closure to a two-and-a-half year nightmare for David Pryor.
On that day, at the farm of Tom Black, the OLA sold eight horses that had been under the control of the Sudbury branch of the SPCA, and some others are being sold in the Sudbury area.
The Manitoulin resident’s ordeal began in the spring of 2006, when the Sudbury branch of the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) first started to seize his purebred Canadian horses.
Pryor said that during three visits in May, 2006, the SPCA removed six horses out of herd of about 27 and confined the remainder to an adjacent property he had sold.
The Society claimed it was acting on a complaint of inadequate care and placed the seized horses secretly in farms around the area.
However, he was allowed to keep nine horses on a third property that was his home farm.
Pryor said he entered into a contract with the SPCA in June, 2006, to pay $13,000 in boarding expenses and the horses would be returned.
None were returned at the time, but in September, he was allowed to pick up seven mares, one stallion and seven foals, including some that had been confined on the adjacent farm.
In November, 2006, another four horses were removed from his property, on grounds that two needed their hooves trimmed, three horses had burs in their tails and forelocks and there was no water bowl, even though there are ponds on each of his properties.
"They kept them until August 19, 2008 and ran up a bill of $26,500," Pryor stated.
Over the last two-and-a-half years, he has fought the seizures during two appeal hearings by the Animal Care Review Board and three Ontario Superior Court appearances, including one that ended up in the Court of Appeal.
In Sept. 2008, the SPCA sent a letter to Pryor’s lawyer Blaine Armstrong, demanding that his client pay outstanding charges of $69,000 in five days or the horses in their care would be sold and he would be sued for the balance.
Pryor had already paid at least $25,000 on a bill of $94,000.
In a response dated Sept. 14, Armstrong argued with the SPCA for a more constructive approach, referring to an Ontario Superior Court hearing on Jan. 27, 2007.
In her decision, Justice L.L. Gauthier ruled that Pryor was entitled to the return of 14 out of 15 named horses in the care and control of the Society, in addition to the foals, subject to their physical condition and payment of outstanding accounts.
Armstrong said that the Society’s failure to be guided by the decision of Justice Gauthier, resulted in continuing boarding costs.
OLA president Jack MacLaren and a group of landowners visited Pryor’s farm during the summer and were impressed with the health of the animals and their living conditions, where they could run freely on 100 acres of green pasture, with the shade of maple trees and a natural water supply. "The horses were far from abused," MacLaren stated.
To address Pryor’s predicament, the OLA planned a protest on Sept. 23 at the Sudbury SPCA office.
The same day, Armstrong received a fax from the SPCA, stating that Pryor’s horses would be released to buyers Pryor had made arrangements with.
On Oct. 12, the OLA picked up the remaining horses in the SPCA’s control that they had bought at a nominal price.
On Nov. 23, the OLA sold the eight horses for $4,500 after expenses and Pryor has the satisfaction of knowing that they are no longer in the hands of the SPCA.
MacLaren said pre-arrangements were made with buyers, to pay a minimum of $600 per horse, well over the meat price and that the horses would be used for recreational or farm purposes, not going to be slaughtered for meat.
Although Pryor’s health has deteriorated since the ordeal began and he now has a criminal record on disputed charges, he is glad that the horses are going to good homes.
Pryor said that one of the veterinarians testified in court, that in all the time he had attended his horses, he had never seen cruelty to animals.
"I’m no criminal. I just wanted to preserve the national horse of Canada. It’s unbelievable. They ruined my reputation and finished me with horses, and ran up huge bills."
Pryor notes the legislation governing the SPCA has been changed, with the passing of Bill 50, to give them "more power than the OPP."
The legislation gives inspectors increased powers to enter places without a warrant or permit, to determine if the care meets prescribed standards and when they have grounds to believe an animal is immediate distress.
"No one I spoke to favours animal cruelty, but this is ludicrous. We brought them from across Ontario and Quebec and raised them from nothing. The agricultural industry is not going to be able to work with these people," Pryor said.
"I’m very impressed with the OLA. They came to my property and we got the horses back. That was a major thing I was fighting for. I did not wish to leave my horses under the care of SPCA. That was the worst thing. The OLA was very beneficial in making that happen and so was my lawyer, who has been working on this for two years," Pryor said.
MacLaren said he has met with SPCA chief Kate MacDonald and chief inspector Hugh Coghill and will meet with them again on Dec. 2. During the meeting, he raised concerns that enforcement officers do not have much training or screening, even though the training has increased from a few days to two weeks. "Too often, they get bullies. They have to inspect cats, dogs, rabbits, birds, horses and cows and understand them all."
But MacLaren said he was happy about the meetings. "She’s receptive to meet with us and talk. We’re doing the best we can to make changes. But there’s great inconsistencies with the SPCA. A lot of what they say doesn’t ring true. If he was such a bad owner, you’d think they’d take all the horses," MacLaren said.
Pryor still has 18 horses according to the agreement, but MacLaren questions the rationale of seizing the horses in the first place. "If he was such a bad owner, why did they allow him to keep some and take the others?"
"I find it ironic that the same day of the OLA protest, Pryor’s lawyer got a letter from the SPCA, changing their tune. It doesn’t take too much to change their minds. We should keep up the good work."
A message left with Kate MacDonald was not returned by press time.