What's it Like to Report on a Feud?

1 decade 1 year 6 months ago Wednesday, March 28 2007 Mar 28, 2007 Wednesday, March 28, 2007 12:15:07 PM CDT March 28, 2007 in News

If I had only known what I was getting myself into.

This story started as a potential Target 8 investigation. Some of Amber Green's neighbors called to complain, saying they thought there was animal abuse going on with her horses. So, we decided to give it a look, and I made a trip out to the property - about a month and half before the story would finally air.
 
My initial conversation with Bill Huddleston, and another neighbor who'd rather not be identified, went fairly well. It was much longer than most interviews I conduct, but Bill had a lot to say. It was clear he had tried just about everything to get something done about the horses, and I think his concern for their health was genuine.
 
There was a lot we talked about that didn't go into the story. Bill was considering suing Amber over unpaid water bills (they're in his name), they'd had a lot of incidents with each others dogs, etc. A lot of personal experiences with Amber would have caused a lot of tangents, and as I'd find out, there are two sides to every story.
 
It was clear this was a feud after talking to Bill, but once I talked to Amber over the phone for the first time, it was painstakingly clear. Every story Bill had told that may have put Amber in a bad light; Amber went ahead and spun to put Bill in the bad light. After the fact, I really have no way to know for sure which one is right, except to try to find a neutral party.
 
Cue the Callaway County Sheriff's Department. Bill had mentioned they had intervened many times, so I filed a sunshine request to obtain all the documents of those incidents. I was halfway surprised to find a 30-document long fax from the department, and when I read through them, it was almost humorous. You can read through them yourself through a link on this story. (Hint: one of the most extensive reports is on 04/03/2006)
 
I also needed to find out a few details about the story from the actual property owner - Bill owned his land - but Amber was renting. Their information at first helped, and a call to them gave an interesting twist later on in the story.
 
However, we still hadn't found any real answer as to whether the horses were really being abused or neglected. So, we decided to consult an expert at the University of Missouri-Columbia. I brought pictures to Dr. Nat Messer, who decided to avoid making any official statements on the story. However, by comparing the body types of the horses to those of what are considered unhealthy or starving, it was clear the horses would not be able to be examined without permission, or seized by any entity, public or private. Also, the fact that 9 horses were on only 3 1/2 acres seemed to concern the neighbors, but Dr. Messer said that was a fairly normal amount of space, provided they were fed well (they may not be able to graze on that area of land). As far as Bill's references to longs spells of time the horses went without food and water, that would also need to be proven - likely by a third-party source over a long period of time, which was not possible at this point.

The only aspect of the story that seemed like it may get to the point of a need for enforcement was the fencing of the horses. Many of the reports had to do with the horses getting out and wandering through the neighborhood, and Amber had been verbally warned by the Sheriff's Department to keep them pinned up (06/18/2006). Our expert also thought this was a very important issue, and Bill even said he looked up state statutes to see how often horses needed to break out of their pen before it was considered neglect. This could be an even bigger issue down the line, if a horse managed to make their way to a highway a few miles away - or any busy intersection where there could be an accident. But, we didn't feel there was enough there at this point for a story.
 
It was here we realized this wouldn't be a Target 8 investigation. We had two options: scrap the story, or tell the story about the feud we'd found out in Callaway. As you know, we chose the latter.
 
The Sheriff's Department didn't want to get involved with the story. The deputy who seemed to have spent the most time on the case had no further comments beyond his reports, and the Sheriff didn't return calls over a two and half week span (mind you, he was out sick for one of those weeks). I learned a lot about people I'd never met in person. One of those people was Amber Green.
 
I never met Amber, but I talked to her many times over the phone for the story. She considered going on-camera for quite some time, but obviously never did. She was very helpful with the story, but also wasn't too happy with the fact that it was going to air. I think it took away from the story to not have her on camera, but what can you do?
 
One of the funniest things that happened to me while working on this story was a couple of weeks after I first talked to Bill. I'd been up late working the night before, and was awoken around 9:00 by a call from Bill: "Well, I just wanted to let you know the horses were out front, eating their own feces."
 
I never thought I'd be on-call for horses eating poop. But I was. I got up, drove to the station, and took the gravel road out to Jo Lane within a half hour of Bill's call. Mind you, I don't know for sure whether they're actually eating feces, but the video from that day is most of what you see in the story, and you can make your own call. I did see them dig out some pieces of hay from the muck, if that helps any.
 
Later, through my conversations with Amber and her landowner, I found out she was going to be ordered to move some of the horses. The owner says she had 5 horses when she moved in, and that was pushing it at the time. So 9 was out of the question. In her contract, she had a clause regarding "commercial animals" on the property. The owner had a problem with a past tenant who bred dogs, so he includes this clause in his contracts, just in case. As he said, he was tired of other tenants in the neighborhood (and reporters) calling about this, and wanted to get it over with.
 
I've learned a whole lot about this little mess between these two people, and it's been very interesting to see how it all plays out. It's been a good test of my ability to decipher through different stories, as well as a test of patience. There were many times I was ready to be done with it - I usually only work on stories for a few hours, and rarely more than a week. So a month and a half is unheard of. I had to re-record the voice in my story, because my producer said I sounded "too bored, like I was tired of the story." Imagine that.
 
In the end, I think it turned out to be a fairly interesting story, especially because of how many higher-ups had been dragged into the mix. Any phone calls I made to Callaway County officials would require two or three details about the story, and they knew exactly who I was talking about. Bill had talked to just about everyone he could think of, but nothing ever really happened.
 
So, after almost daily conversations with sources for the story, and multiple car washes after trips down the gravel road, the story was finished. I hope you found it interesting, or at least got a smile out of the deal. Thanks for watching.

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