A large horse stable in the unincorporated County community of Athens called “The Hill,” was recently the site of a fire in which four animals perished. Long before that blaze, however, the stables were a problem — cited literally dozens of times due to serious safety and building code violations.
Over the past several years, the departments of Public Works has identified major code enforcement violations at the stables – including other fire hazards – and the County Department of Animal Care and Control has documented appalling cases of animal abuse and neglect. Sadly, the June 18 fire in which animals died was not the first time such a tragedy had occurred. Furthermore, although many responsible horse-lovers have enjoyed easy access to their animals at the stables, the site has become a haven for drug dealing, cock fighting, dog fighting and other illicit activities.
For too long, building and safety hazards have persisted with few it any consequences, and crime has been allowed to fester. This must stop. The community deserves better. I have urged the District Attorney as well as County Counsel to do everything possible within their scope of authority to bring order to this long-standing blight on the community, and I intend to see that it happens.
I want to emphasize something: It is the property owner – not the neighborhood riders and urban cowboys — who has created an environment of risk for the health and safety of all the animals and their owners. It is unfortunate that the many families and community members who have entrusted their horses to this stable have been so poorly served by its owner.
Nonetheless, to prevent further loss of life or injury, the County has asked that the owners of the horses begin identifying alternative locations to which they can relocate their horses as quickly as possible. Horses will not be involuntarily removed at this point, and my office is working to identify temporary locations for those who have no place to board their animals.
County officials will continue to monitor the situation on a daily basis to ensure compliance and the safety for the public and the animals, but owners will be permitted to enter the property at this time to feed, water and remove their horses.
I know what this neighborhood resource means to the community. I know the family traditions, the boost in self-confidence of young people that comes with horseback riding and the safety valve riding has provided for youths who otherwise might be tempted by the streets. But my paramount concern and focus right now is safety, both of horses boarded there and that of their owners.