Animal owner isn't horsing around with anonymous complaint

Miniature therapy horse causes controversy

AUSTIN - A North Austin woman wants to know who keeps calling the city to complain about her miniature, therapy horse.

Four times a year, Milwood neighborhood residents can catch a glimpse of Bernard grazing in his front lawn. Martha Smith keeps the 12-year-old medium sized mini horse at a ranch near Lockhart.

But when Smith brings her to her home, she invites strangers from all over to visit. She said Bernard has been a therapy pet since he was eight-months-old, bringing comfort to adults and children.

"Nobody around me complains about Bernard over all these years," said Smith.

Most neighbors don't mind Bernard hanging out in the front yard of this north Austin neighborhood. That changed around a year and a half ago. The sixth grade math teacher said that's when someone started calling the code department and complaining about Bernard.

An officer with the Austin Code Department visited Smith's home several times and has yet to find any violations. The latest complaint came in the last week and Smith said it's too much.

"I feel terrible. I take it personally. I'm sorry. Because Bernard brings nothing but happiness. And then there's somebody who has to call Code and it's actually stressful," Smith said.

This has hit Smith hard because Bernard provides so much comfort to so many, especially children with special needs. Smith said Bernard has even helped non-verbal autistic children talk.

The horse is so popular that when Smith wrote in the Nextdoor app that she no longer would have open houses with Bernard because of the complaints, neighbors rallied. Even those who didn't know Smith, like Linda Gray, reached out.

"Martha, I don't know you, I haven't met you before, but I support you," Gray remembered writing to Smith. 

Gray is just as baffled as Smith when it comes to the complaints.

"They need to get a hobby or find something else to do," said Gray.

Smith just wants to talk to the person and see what about Bernard bothers him or her so much. Smith said Bernard stays in an enclosure in the backyard when he visits. When he is in the front yard, she is with him.

A spokesperson with the Austin Code Department said the complaints came through 311 and because the owner wants to remain anonymous, they have no way of reaching out and updating them about the investigations.

(© 2016 KVUE)


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