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Horse farm owner Erin Ochoa takes the reins as 'county executive' for the day

County Executive Allan Kittleman headed to the fields Tuesday morning as Days End Farm Horse Rescue owner Erin Ochoa went to work behind a desk when the two switched roles as part of the county's Farm-City Celebration.

As Kittleman got to work at the farm and horse rescue in Woodbine, Ochoa started her day by signing a proclamation to give her authority in the county and to declare the day as "Farmer Allan" day in honor of Kittleman.

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Once in power, Ochoa began her duties by meeting with Dave Keane and Mike Milani of the county's department of recreation and parks. The three discussed the various services offered by the department, including the county's six horse-friendly parks that comprise 23 miles of trails.

Ochoa was interested to learn more about how the Days End Farm could partner with the county to increase the farm's efforts toward community service. She said the farm is open for tours daily and regularly brings in different school groups, often from Baltimore City, to learn about horse care and rescue.

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The farm has worked with the state's Department of Agriculture to develop school-based curriculum that can be applied to visits to the farm, something Ochoa said she'd love to expand more with Howard County students.

The "executive" then met with Bureau of Behavioral Health Director Roe Rodgers-Bonaccorsy and Seante' Hunt, the county's opioid misuse prevention coordinator and overdose response program coordinator, to learn about the spread of the opioid epidemic in Howard County.

Ochoa said she was "extremely surprised" to learn about the broad scope of the problem in the county, and the high number of people who have suffered fatal overdoses. As of Aug. 11, there were 50 overdose deaths in Howard County from opioids, heroin and fentanyl, according to county data.

"I had no idea this was such a problem," Ochoa said during the meeting.

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Hunt finished the meeting by training Ochoa in how to administer the opioid antidote naloxone. Hunt gives frequent trainings on how to use the life saving drug; in fiscal 2017 the county trained 715 people how to use the drug, and since July 1, Hunt said she has trained more than 200 people.

Ochoa was curious to know the cause behind the growing number of people getting trained, which Rodgers-Bonaccorsy attributed to the fact that more people in the county are becoming aware of the gravity of the substance abuse crisis.

The final stop of Ochoa's morning as executive was at the James N. Robey Public Safety Training Center, where she learned about the various training undertaken by county police officers and firefighters.

Ochoa has some experience working with law enforcement through her job at Days End, where she trains officers in how to rescue horses from situations of cruelty and neglect. She said the county's center for training officers in everything from fire rescue to shooting firearms was "amazing" and a very unique asset the county is able to maintain.

She ended her visit with the chance to drive through the county's collision avoidance training course. Typically used in classes geared toward new drivers, the course gives individuals a chance to practice maneuverability and quick-response driving skills.

Meanwhile, "farmer" Kittleman spent the morning with the horses at Days End, where he cleaned stalls, groomed and fed horses and completed other chores around the farm.

"Days End is more than a horse rescue," Kittleman said in his remarks following the exchange. "This is a place where people can be healed inside as well as helping the horses being healed. It's an amazing place."

Ochoa said she was excited when the county approached her to participate in this year's farmer-executive switch, and that it was a great chance to have Kittleman out to the farm.

"It's nice to see what we're all doing in the county to make it better," she said.

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