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HOPKINTON â€“ Despite the pleasant farms and warm-hearted rural folks, the behavior of South County residents in times past didnâ€™t always make for a pretty picture. On numerous occasions, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was called in to investigate the criminal, the heartless, and the often grotesque actions of our townspeople.
In July of 1900, police officer George Barber, who also acted as an officer for the SPCA, was called to Woodville regarding a case of animal abuse. There, he discovered a horse laying beside the road, in the hot sun, where it had remained for days. The animal had formerly been owned by carriage blacksmith Charles Sweet, a 43-year-old widower who had sold it to Charles Burton. Burton told Sweet that the horse was aged but good enough for trips of about six miles, or even getting to Westerly and back. Sweet wanted $2 for the horse and Burton agreed to pay that amount but, as of that day, had not.
Burton claimed that he discovered the horse was so old that he was absolutely useless and returned the animal to Sweet two days later. Sweet refused to take the horse back and warned Burton that he better make good on their deal. Burton stated that he would simply take the horse over to 68-year-old farmer Peter Palmerâ€™s place and leave it there. Sweet didnâ€™t care where he left the horse, as long as he forked over the $2 he had agreed to pay. The two men couldnâ€™t come to an agreement and Burton left. The horse stayed there by the side of the road, where he had been abandoned. The following day, the animal stumbled and fell. Too old and weak to get back on its legs, the horse dragged himself one hundred feet down the road.
Officer Barber attempted to find someone who would be willing to care for the horse, but was unsuccessful so had the animal shot. Sweet was prosecuted for animal cruelty and fined $17.70.
Officer Barber arrested 72-year-old farmer Ezra Holloway along with George W. Hopkins, both of Charlestown, in April of 1901, after an agent for the SPCA made a complaint against the two men. They were charged with cruelty for failing to provide sufficient food and shelter for their horses.
The following month, Charles Sweet had taken possession of Hollowayâ€™s horse and was arrested by the SPCA once again. It was determined by the SPCA that the horse was unfit for labor. Sweet defended himself by claiming that he had not used the horse for labor due to the fact that he had no harness. By the time of the hearing, Sweet had already sold the horse to a man in Plainville who killed and buried it. Sweet was fined and ordered to pay court costs, the total amount coming to $8.80.
During the winter of 1902, it was discovered that some unknown person had shot the dog belonging to Dr. Edwards of Wyoming. The following day, the dog was still alive and suffering where it had crawled underneath the horse shed of the Hope Valley Baptist Church. An anti-cruelty officer was called in to investigate the matter.
Albert C. Woodmansee of Richmond was arrested on the morning of June 10, 1908 by an agent for the SPCA after being investigated for failing to provide adequate sustenance for his horse for the previous five months. The 52-year-old farmer pleaded not guilty and was hauled off to the Kingston Jail to await a hearing.
John R. Gorton of Hopkinton was unique in that he actually pleaded guilty to the charges that were brought against him in May of 1905. Two complaints of cruelty had been made by an SPCA agent against the 32-year-old lumberman. Gorton admitted that he did treat his horse quite harshly as it was stubborn and he was determined to make the animal do what he wanted it to do. Despite his honesty, animal cruelty wasnâ€™t tolerated for any reason and Gorton was fined $20.60.
Kelly Sullivan is a freelance features and history writer for Southern Rhode Island Newspapers.