This Abused Horse Is Suing His Former Owner

Warning: This story contains a graphic image of animal abuse

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, or ALDF, hopes to make animal law history by securing the right of an abused horse to sue his alleged abuser.

Once he was called Shadow, but now he’s known as Justice. He’s an eight-year-old quarter horse who suffered extreme neglect allegedly at the hands of his former owner, Gwendolyn Vercher.

Justice — as plaintiff by and through his guardian, Kim Mosiman of Sound Equine Operations – filed a lawsuit with the help of the ALDF in May 2018. From his former owner, Justice seeks the costs of his future medical care, as well as damages for his significant pain and suffering.

In March 2017, thanks to the urgings of a worried neighbor, Vercher took Justice to a veterinarian. The results of his examination were heartbreaking.

Justice's condition when first surrendered to a rescue organization. Photo credit: Animal Legal Defense Fund

Justice’s condition when first surrendered to a rescue organization. Photo credit: Animal Legal Defense Fund

The emaciated Justice was 300 pounds underweight. He’d been denied adequate food and shelter for months — abandoned outside to starve and freeze. This criminal neglect also caused Justice to suffer from lice and “rain rot,” a bacterial skin infection that irritates a horse’s hair and skin, according to the complaint.

Most devastating is that Justice now suffers permanent injury from penile frostbite. That happened because Justice’s penis was swollen, traumatized, infected and prolapsed for a very long time.

He will likely need at least a partial penile amputation due to the trauma, scarring and infection he suffered. To keep Justice healthy and infection-free, he’ll need special care for the rest of his life. And that will cost money.

Photo credit: Animal Legal Defense Fund

Photo credit: Animal Legal Defense Fund

Facing this prognosis, Vercher surrendered Justice to Sound Equine Operations at the urging of her neighbor.

Vercher pleaded guilty to first degree animal neglect in July 2017. As part of a plea deal, she agreed to pay restitution of costs for Justice’s care incurred before July 6, 2017. No provisions were made for Vercher to pay for care occurring after that date.

The Legal Argument

To date, no animal in its own right has received the legal recognition to sue in court. Will Justice be the one?

“There have been a lot of efforts to try to get animals not only to be protected but to have the right to go to court when their rights are violated,” Matthew Liebman, director of litigation at the ALDF, told The Washington Post. “[Past efforts] haven’t found the right key to the courthouse door. And we’re hopeful that this is the key.”

Oregon is fertile ground for this effort. The state’s courts have already recognized that animals are “sentient beings” with their own cognizable legal interests. The state’s progressive anti-cruelty laws protect the animals themselves — not because they belong to someone or because there’s some public interest served.

Oregon state courts have previously ruled that animals can be considered victims as individuals. When all this is taken together, it’s not a huge leap to this next step — legal standing to sue as an individual.

Recognizing an animal’s right to litigate in situations like this is not as far-fetched as it might seem. Others who cannot speak for themselves have this right.

“This whole idea of somebody who has been injured by the acts of another and not being able to speak for themselves in court, so having an adult human do it for them, this is not new,” ALDF attorney Sarah Hanneken told The Washington Post. “Children are allowed to bring lawsuits, because we recognize that children have interests that laws protect.”

In Oregon, animals have interests that the law protects, too. Of course, not everyone agrees with this idea.

Justice on the road to recovery. Photo credit: Animal Legal Defense Fund

Justice on the road to recovery. Photo credit: Animal Legal Defense Fund

Writing of this case in the National Review, Wesley J. Smith asserts:

“Animal standing” poses an existential threat to human exceptionalism, rationality, and our economic thriving. Don’t think that “it can never happen here.” Remember, it only takes one judge wanting to make radical history.

Yes, it’s a threat to “human exceptionalism” all right. And that’s fine by me. We share this planet with other beings. Just because we’re able to impose our will on animals, that doesn’t make right.

“Any case that could lead to billions of animals having the potential to file lawsuits is a shocker in the biggest way,” Richard L. Cupp, a Pepperdine University law professor, told The Washington Post. “Once you say a horse or dog or cat can personally sue over being abused, it’s not too big a jump to say, ‘Well, we’re kind of establishing that they’re legal persons with that. And legal persons can’t be eaten.’”

Well, that sounds eminently reasonable to me, but then again I’m a vegan. Animals exist for their own purposes, not for ours. But I digress.

This case is well worth watching. It represents the strongest chance yet that an animal might find legal recognition of its sentience and its right to recover for negligent cruelty imposed upon it.

May Justice ultimately find his justice.

Photo Credit: Erin Dolson/Unsplash


Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson4 months ago

Thank you.

Freya H
Freya H4 months ago

A horse as the plaintiff in a lawsuit? Now that is something. As for the image being graphic - I have seen worse on Care2. Or is it because Justice/Shadow has his pizzle hanging out?

Leo C
Leo C4 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

Pat P
Pat P4 months ago

About time--long overdue right! A needed barrier to horrifying animal cruelty!

Terri S
Terri S4 months ago

Go ALDF and Justice!!! We're backing you 100%!!!

Nicole Heindryckx
Nicole Heindryckx4 months ago

@ Rosslyn O : I fully share your hopes !! It's time we give ALL ANIMALS A VOICE !!

Nicole H
Nicole Heindryckx4 months ago

Abused animals should have the legal possibility to sue their former owners, so that all costs for shelter / vet bills and eventual lifetime treatments should be paid by the ABUSER. Now it is easy : you have to pay a few hundred $$ fine, you walk away, and case closed !! What chances does these animals have to be adopted ?? Not all people who adopt a dog / horse or whatever animal have the possibility to pay for medication, or eventually other treatments, regular vet control, special diet food, etc.. Some people adopt a dog or cat or another animal because they love animals very much, but don't have the money to buy puppies, calves, cubs, etc... In helping these people in freeing them from these extra costs, we could help animals that would otherwise be euthanized.

Nicole H
Nicole Heindryckx4 months ago

Children can be represented by an Organization and obtain indemnification as demanded for by a lawyer. Elderly people who are cruelly treated in a home, or at home by their children or partner, can also be represented by someone and/or a lawyer to obtain financial indemnification.
I hope this particular sad case can make a 180 degree turn in legislation. Why is that former Owner only responsible till July 2017. This horse will suffer for the rest of his days. People who would consider adopting him will have huge vet bills. That will hugely diminish his changes for adoption.
I always have loved horses very much. You can compare them with dogs as far as their loving heart and loyalty is concerned. Regretfully, the last decades more and more people buy a horse without knowing anything at all about them. Not even that they can not live on grass / hay alone.... Many are standing in a meadow, 365 days a year, and some of them have NO SHELTER at all against rain / snow or sun. It is even more disgusting than a stray dog, because many people feed them and they usually can find a place themselves to hide from stormy / rainy cold weather. Horses can not. Barbed wire, electrified, prevents them from escaping and only very rarely there is someone who bring them some bread or veggies or so.. .../2

Deborah S
Deborab S5 months ago

Thank You

Camilla Vaga
Camilla Vaga5 months ago