Justice for Justice the Neglected Horse

Although there has been a significant improvement within animal law as it relates to the legal recognition of animals as sentient beings, a major obstacle still needs hurdling. In animal abuse cases, whether negligent or intentional, criminal convictions may result; however, in many of these abuse cases, the animal who fell victim to abuse rarely receives adequate compensation to cover the expenses related to their necessary short-term and long-term treatment needs.

In May of 2018, the Washington County Circuit court filed a lawsuit on behalf of an 8-year-old horse by the name of Justice against his former-guardian, Gwendolyn Vercher, who negligently deprived Justice of adequate amounts of food and shelter in the winter months. After his rescue, Justice was found to be nearly 300 pounds underweight, infested with lice, and suffering from rain rot and severe frostbite. Justice was found in severe pain, and he requires extensive surgery and long-term specialized veterinary care.[1] Unfortunately, a criminal conviction for an animal abuser does not provide adequate amounts of funding to cover the expenses related to treatments that result from the abuse.

In seeking for compensation in the amount of $100,000.00, Justice would have enough funding to treat his injuries that resulted from the abuse done to him by his ex-guardian. Unfortunately, however, “a Washington County judge dismissed the case” this past September.[2] Judge John Knowles dismissed the lawsuit claiming that animals do not have legal standing and that if this decision was allowed, “a flood of lawsuits” would flow[3]. Generally speaking, standing refers to the legal right of a person or group to sue another. Persons usually include individual human beings and legal entities such as corporations, but not animals. Currently, animals do not have the status of persons and do not have legal standing to bring claims against their ex-guardians who abused them. Although “Vercher was convicted of first-degree neglect in 2017”[4], Vercher’s restitution payment of $3,700.00 is far from adequate to provide Justice with his much-needed medical treatments. This case dismissal is a step backward preventing justice from surfacing.

Proposals to this problem may already be seen across multiple jurisdictions in the U.S. Lawmakers in Connecticut have recently passed a Bill into ‘Desmond’s law’ “giving abused cats and dogs their own legal representation”.[5] This law would provide a solution to the problem where animals lack legal standing to raise actions against their abusers. In fact, since Desmond’s law’s enactment, multiple representatives have been appointment in the state of Connecticut for animals who were victims to cruelty.[6] However, currently this law applies to the rescue of cats and dogs – not horses.

To raise awareness on this issue, Justice the horse has been named as the 2019 representative for the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s (ALDF) National Justice for Animals Week. This event is an annual event which helps raise awareness about animal abuse, shows the public how to report animal abuse, how anyone can help within their community and to encourage stricter enforcement.[7] With this annual event, ALDF encourages the public to commit to seven actions for each day of the week the event operates.[8]  By participating, you can help raise awareness and find justice for Justice the horse and other animals who are victims to animal abuse. By familiarizing yourself with your state’s animal protection laws, signing up for national and local alerts, and connecting with animal advocates on social media, including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, you can help spread the word when animal abuse is found.

Although Desmond’s law, which gives animal advocates the right to act as representatives for abused animals, provides a solution to cats and dogs who fall victim to animal abuse, the lawyers in Justices’ case are now appealing to a higher court in the hope of providing Justice with legal standing so that he can receive the much-needed compensation that he deserves. If this appeal is successful, this would be the first time an animal will be granted the right to sue their abusers. It is only a matter of time in which we will find out whether justice will be served for Justice the horse. Let’s hope for the best and help him.




[1] “Animal Rights Group Appeals Judge’s Decision to Dismiss Horse’s Lawsuit against Abuser.” KATU, 2018, katu.com/news/local/animal-rights-group-appeals-judges-decision-to-dismiss-horses-lawsuit-against-abuser.

[2] Njus, Elliot. “Oregon Horse Appeals Dismissal of Lawsuit against Former Owner.” OregonLive.com, OregonLive.com, 22 Jan. 2019, www.oregonlive.com/news/2019/01/oregon-horse-appeals-dismissal-of-lawsuit-against-former-owner.html.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Oren. “Desmond’s Law Gives Abused Animals a Voice in Court.” Wide Open Pets, Wide Open Pets, 28 Mar. 2018, www.wideopenpets.com/desmonds-law-gives-abused-animals-a-voice-in-court/.

[6] “Animal abuse needs to be treated like the horrendous crime it is.” The Journal, The Journal, 11 Jan. 2019, https://www.journal-news.net/journal-news/animal-abuse-needs-to-be-treated-like-the-horrendous-crime/article_309a803d-4acd-5555-ad7c-5da4f91109cc.html?utm_medium=social&utm_source=email&utm_campaign=user-share.

[7] ALDF. “National Justice for Animals Week.” Animal Legal Defense Fund, 2019, aldf.org/project/national-justice-for-animals-week/.

[8] Ibid.