"There is no mention of any functional lameness in these animals," Mr. Wood says. "My opinion, as a 50-plus-year horseman, is that one swollen joint in 19 working horses is evidence of a remarkably high standard of conditioning and care."
Mr. Wood believes two citations for "sick and injured" horses might have given the city grounds for the confiscation, but even these violations do not appear to be severe enough. The documents he reviewed mentioned harness sores -- one each on three horses -- and two lacerations or cuts on one horse's leg.
Mr. Wood believes the a-rabs' rights to purse a livelihood have been violated by an overzealous city government taking its cues from the humane society.
"By memorializing the violations in such detailed form on 16 citations," Mr. Wood says, "the city has . . . inadvertently recorded that the animals were not, in fact, abused or neglected in terms of any traditional common standard for confiscation -- malnutrition, [being forced to] work in spite of chronic or extreme lameness, untreated sickness, or abuse ... What the city has done with the citations is inadvertently document their own abuse of the rights of citizens."
Monday, I submitted questions about all this to officials of the city Health and Housing departments. Deputy Mayor Frank responded.
"We deferred to the Health Department, which made the judgment to seize the horses," he wrote in an e-mail. "I have no reason to believe that the conditions were exaggerated."
Shawnta Chase says she's facing $6,000 in fines. Her eight horses, which she used for parties, weddings and other social occasions, remain at the rescue farm, along with her uncle's. She says the city had promised a meeting to discuss the situation with the a-rabs last week, but the meeting was canceled.
If the city no longer wants to support, with time and money, the a-rabs of Baltimore, fine. If the city wants others to take up the effort to save the tradition, that's fine too. What's not fine is an en masse confiscation of horses used in the course of someone's livelihood, unless there's substantive evidence of abuse or neglect of each and every animal.
"Just give us our horses back," says Shawnta Chase, "and we'll find a place to keep them."
Dan Rodricks' column appears Thursdays and Sundays in print and online, and Tuesdays online-only. He is host of the Midday talk show on WYPR-FM.