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Staff Writer

PEPPERELL — Acting on what Chairman Virginia Malouin described as an argument for regulating horse-keeping, the Board of Health gave a Bacon Street homeowner one week to remove four horses from her half-acre house lot or be ordered to do so.

The board’s agent, animal inspector Ken West, determined during a Jan. 2 barn inspection that three horses owned by Melissa Winch of 7 Bacon Street were not being kept in an acceptable manner.

West authored a March 28 letter ordering Winch to “get rid” of the horses by April 30 and clean the yard. When the newly-elected BOH met May 16, nothing had been done and a fourth horse had been added.

West wrote the yard is “not acceptable,” “not clean,” manure is “everywhere” with no storage for it, there is “no shelter for the horses (and) the lot area is not large enough for any horses at all.”

Health agent Edward Wirtanen said that at the board’s May 23 meeting, Winch reported two of the four horses had been removed and she was trying to find boarding for the others. The delay in solving the complaint had created agitated discussion.

More than two years ago the BOH contemplated barn regulations. The action led to formation of the self-governing Pepperell Horse Owners Association (PHOA) and the idea was dropped. In the absence of state regulations other than for nuisances, local health boards gain the right to author such rules once a town reaches a population of 5,000.

May 16, West told the BOH the size of the corral was about 50 by 65 feet. He said he has tried during his 37-year tenure to be fair-minded but that Winch wasn’t working hard enough to remove the horses that, he said, can’t even move around.

Winch agreed the manure situation is “tough,” but said she had been in the hospital giving birth when the inspection was made. She argued there are other properties in town with more than four horses on them.

“We had frozen snow and you can’t shovel frozen manure,” she said of the January inspection. “I’ve been looking hard to find a stable to board them.”

Winch and her mother, Mary, said several times they were looking for stable space, which usually becomes available when warmer weather arrives.

Mary said that neither PHOA members nor the organization Rescuers on Line had been helpful. The Rescuers, she said, described one of Melissa’s horses as “psycho” and recommended the animal be “put down,” although the horse has only bitten it’s own tongue.

She also said the local horse farm West had directed her to move her animals to had ridden them without her permission and tried to sell a young horse “out from under us.”

Melissa said she feels forced to bring her animals to auction, where any horse owner knows there are meat buyers present looking for animals for slaughter.

“We’re looking at a barn this weekend,” Mary said. “We’re trying to remove them because people are complaining. You’re living in the country. Get used to it.”

“Not on Bacon Street you’re not,” BOH member Peter Cronin said.

One of Winch’s neighbors said the animals have been out in weather without protection since December and that the smell from the yard is “nauseating.” If the Winch’s cared so much about the horses, she wondered why they hadn’t built a lean-to.

The neighbor brought a letter of complaint from Jean and Michael Doherty of 11 Bacon Street stating the same concerns. West said odor is caused by urine, not manure.

Mary Winch said a falling branch demolished a carport the horses had used but that the horses were given heavy blankets, as required in captivity. There are barns with manure “up to your knees,” she said.

“How much longer are you willing to wait?” Myra Cacace, new member of the BOH, asked West.

“It’s not up to me, it’s up to you,” he said.

Asked if the horses could be boarded separately, Mary Winch said that wouldn’t be fair to her daughter, who would have to drive back and forth with her infant to maintain them.

“That’s not our concern,” Cronin said.

“In a way it is, she has a baby,” Mary replied.

West said one of the problems is there are no regulations regarding horse-keeping but offered to bring in a draft he has developed over the years.

Malouin said it seems “ambitious” to own and care for four horses and said although she admires the Winches for that, the conditions are “unacceptable.”

“This is serious business,” health agent Edward Wirtanen said. “It’s rare Ken has to turn to us for enforcement. Those of us in the trenches need the wisdom and guidance of the board to make sure the concerns of the public are not ignored (but) it’s frustrating when people are given time and a certified letter and nothing happens.”