What Happened to HorseAid, Melissa?

(from: the Daily News, Los Angeles, 08/27/98)

Horror for Horses

By Melissa Schmitt, Daily News

In classified ads, Renae Ferguson made an irresistible plea for donations of horses to help her needy-children's camps.

Hundreds of equestrians in Southern California answered by donating their beloved pets, but their charity took a horrific turn Wednesday when Ferguson, 28, of Tarzana was arraigned in Los Angeles Municipal Court on misdemeanor charges of cruelty to animals.

Ferguson did not run a children's riding camp, police said. She starved and abused the horses while waiting to find buyers for them -- and investigators believe at least one was sold to a slaughterhouse, police said.

"Doesn't it just pull at your heartstrings?" said Richard Felosky, Valley district supervisor for the city's Animal Regulation Department.

"Someone gives up their pet they've had for umpteen years, their beloved horse, doesn't want to send it to the meat factory. What better than to give it to needy children?"

The whereabouts are unknown for all but 14 horses that officials impounded and sent to Valley animal shelters.

Ferguson and both her parents were jailed.

Ferguson also could be charged with felony fraud, said LAPD Detective Rene Lacasse.

Ferguson's father, John Reddeck, 56, was arraigned with Ferguson on cruelty to animals charges Wednesday, said Los Angeles police Detective John Metcalf.

In the courthouse at Reddeck and Ferguson's arraignment Wednesday, Ferguson's mother, Darlene Craig, 48, was arrested on suspicion of cruelty to animals, police said.

And Ferguson is accused of following the same practice for years elsewhere, police said. She is scheduled to stand trial on a charge of cruelty to animals in Ventura County on Sept. 2. No fraud has been alleged in that case.

"I have a feeling it's all up and down the state," said Cathleen Doyle of the California Equine Council.

According to Lacasse, the parents, who are divorced, served as a front for their daughter's illegal horse trading, fielding complaints from animal advocates and neighbors concerned for the health of the starving horses.

Some of Ferguson's horses found at stables in Sylmar and La Tuna Canyon were emaciated, others had a hoof condition called thrush from living in filthy conditions, said Felosky. Acting on complaints from horse owners, Felosky spearheaded the effort to save the horses.

Jeanne Damato rented her Sylmar stables to Ferguson in the spring, but then lodged a complaint with authorities after three months. Ferguson had claimed her horses were abused at their previous stable, but Damato grew skeptical.

Those horses could hardly walk, Damato said. "They were skin and bones."

Ferguson's alleged scheme began with advertisements in the Recycler and California Horse Trader newspapers. The ads solicited donations of horses, tack, wagons and trailers for her West Coast Riding Academy for needy children. The academy was advertised as a certified nonprofit. Police said it is not a certified nonprofit.

Ferguson then sold the donated horses through ads in the same publications.

With her ads Ferguson secured donations of hundreds of horses, police said.

Investigators said she turned those horses around sometimes in one day and sometimes for as much as $2,500. Sometimes it took long enough that she nearly starved the animals to death, police said.

Police said she later explained the animals' condition to potential buyers by saying the animals had been brought to the camp in a starved condition, and she couldn't afford to nurse them back to health.

Ferguson's last procurement, a thoroughbred, was worth $10,000 to $15,000, according to its owner, who asked not to be identified.

When police arrested Ferguson and impounded her horses Tuesday, six of the eight animals were sickly, stashed in stables in La Tuna Canyon and one at Damato's.

Police are searching for anyone who might have bought or sold horses with Ferguson and can be reached at (213) 485-3795.

Copyright 1998 Daily News Los Angeles08/27/98 02:58

Re: "Horror for Horses", yes it was! I was there, where were you?

Dear Los Angeles Daily News Editor,

My name is Lisa Messia and I am a representative for HorseAid.

Regarding your story on the horse fraud and abuse case of Renae Ferguson, I thought you should know that our organization was called in May to investigate the case of abuse at Jeanne Damato's place.

I personally went out there alone and saw the terrible conditions these horses were living in. I spent the day cleaning up the horses and doing what I could to make them as comfortable as possible. After I left, I preceded to call East Valley Animal Control every day for two weeks until finally HorseAid threatened to get their legal staff involved if the horses were not removed from the premises.

Since the horse's have been removed, I have been going over to the West Valley Animal Shelter where the horses are kept and have been taking care of them every weekend, nursing them back to health along with aid from the City Veterinarian, Ark Trust and Animal Control every weekend since July.

Since there was no mention in your article of HorseAid's solitary role in getting the horses removed and taking care of them up to date, I felt it was only right for you to have all the facts. I think a story about how HorseAid and other organizations in the community have come together to care for these animals and work so hard so that this kind of cruelty is prevented should be acknowledged. I feel your story was incomplete in mentioning the role that HorseAid had in saving these horses.

Without HorseAid's role in pushing Animal Control, these horses would of never been removed and no one would of known about it. If you decide to do a follow up on this story, please feel free to contact me regarding the facts, since HorseAid has personally been involved in this situation from the very beginning.

Thank you,

Lisa Messia, HorseAid Field Rep.

lisa.messia@igha.org, 310.719.9094, http://www.igha.org

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