Horse owners question brand inspection policies

A routine brand inspection turned into a crisis when a brand inspector stopped Todd and Jacque Werner off Highway 395 north of Minden.

The Werners were moving their horse from a pasture along Foothill Road to their Johnson Lane home when the inspector's flashing lights came up in the rearview mirror.

Those lights, the noise from the trailer passing over the rumble strip and the precarious tilt of the trailer as the Werners pulled over, panicked the horse and he kicked his way out, then bounded toward oncoming traffic, Todd Werner said.

"At no point did (the brand inspector) assist us in any way to get the situation under control, even though it posed a huge safety hazard to our horse, ourselves and the traffic 3 feet away on Highway 395," she said. "At two different points the brand inspector was actually chuckling, saying, 'I can't believe your horse freaked out like that.'"

The trailer sustained $500 in damages. The horse cut his rear and leg as he flew out of the trailer and the Werners were forced to walk the animal another five miles to their home, Todd Werner said.

Like so many horses, the Werner's horse had no brand. Nevada inspectors accept a description of the animal for this process, but the Werners did not have their paperwork with them. The inspector issued a warning citation and left, Todd Werner said.

The incident occurred about 18 months ago and in that time, the Werners have complained to the Nevada Department of Agriculture and Gov. Kenny Guinn.

"All we got was a call from one gentleman, saying the inspector had every right to pull us over," Todd Werner said.

Local horse owner Sue Coffey said brand inspection rules in Nevada are antiquated, unevenly administered and ineffective. Stopping legitimate horse owners without cause is wrong.

"It's the same as allowing an animal control officer to pull you over just to see if you have a dog in your car and if so, do you have a license," she said. "Even the FBI couldn't pull you over without probable cause."

Lt. Dennis Jourgenson said most horses are no longer branded and detailed descriptions are supposed to be noted on the brand inspection papers. He's aware of the issues, but said he would hate to lose the program. The alternative would be designated check sites where everyone is pulled over, but Nevada doesn't have the funding.

"A lot of other states don't stop people due to civil liability, but our statute allows it," he said. "If we lose our ability to random stops, we'll see an increase in theft and diseased animals. Nevada has a strong program. Our rate of violations, as opposed to the number of people we stop, is still running about 20 percent.

"We don't want sick animals coming into the state and horse owners don't want a sick horse in the stall next to them at a horse show," he said. "The same applies to cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, llamas."

Brand inspections have been a common practice here since the 1930s. Nevada employs between 90 and 100 part-time brand inspectors, said Jim Connelley, administrator for the Division of Livestock Identification and Agricultural Enforcement.

Coffey said problems arise in part because Nevada's branding inspection program is self-funded.

"The more stops an inspector makes, the more money he makes. This is their income and we're being penalized," she said.

Nevada Senator Dean Rhodes, R-Tuscarora, said brand inspection laws will be addressed by the Subcommittee on Natural Resources and Agriculture this session. If necessary, legislation will be submitted to address any issues.

n Susie Vasquez can be reached at or 782-5121, ext. 211.


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