The bizarre death of a man who had sex with a horse made dreadful headlines. But last summer's infamous Enumclaw animal-intercourse investigation did not turn up a rural crime wave of bestiality, authorities say. State Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, however, plans to continue her push for a law barring such acts, worried the case revealed "an animal sex ring, a magnet for syndication of the sexual abuse of animals. People came from outside this state to engage in this activity because people knew they wouldn't be arrested."
Enumclaw Police and King County Sheriff's investigators ultimately expended little time on the case after determining no felony laws were broken. There was no convincing evidence of animal cruelty, and bestiality is not a crime in Washington. Investigators concluded that only three men were present when a 45-year-old Seattle man was killed while having sex with a horse July 2 at one of two neighboring farms where such acts took place in southeast King County. And only one suspect, James Michael Tait, 54, has been charged with a crime, first-degree trespassing, a misdemeanor.
"The sheriff's office did not find that any [felony] crimes had been committed," says sheriff's Sgt. John Urquhart. Thus, "we didn't look too deeply into how many people had visited farm No. 1 [Tait's property] or how big an operation it was." Says Roach: "Right. What's the purpose of investigating further if there's no law against it? We're one of eight states without one. Animals are left unprotected, and it is abuse of an animal to sexually assault it." She suspects Internet chat has attracted out-of-state abusers, although all three men in the Enumclaw case were locals. "When you are dealing with the Internet," Roach says, "you just have to assume it's gone past state lines."
Tait, a truck driver who lives near the Southeast 444th Street farm where the death occurred, pleaded not guilty and awaits trial in Burien District Court. The second farm's owner was unaware the threesome had sneaked into his barn late at night, according to the King County Prosecutor's Office. Urquhart of the sheriff's office says that "typically," men were having sex with a horse on Tait's property, "but on this particular night it is my understanding that horse wasn't particularly receptive."
The man who died during the incident suffered a perforated colon after being penetrated by the neighbor's horse, investigators say. He also owned a horse of his own, according to the Humane Society, which says it is trying to find a foster home for the animal. "Bestiality," says local Humane Society director Robert Reder in a statement, "is an unsettling and uncomfortable topic." Nonetheless, "The people who engage in this behavior are victimizing animals."
According to charging papers, Tait told a sheriff's deputy that he and the two other men "came to know each other as a result of their common interest in having sex with horses and other animals." Tait and the man who later died both had sex with the neighbor's horse that night, according to the charging papers. The second man died while Tait was videotaping the encounter. The tape was later shown to the couple that owns the barn so they could confirm it was their horse, known as Big Dick. Enumclaw Police turned up as many as 100 VHS videos and DVDs. But with no applicable bestiality or animal abuse laws to enforce, authorities never viewed the tapes, Urquhart says.
Roach is still drafting the bill to criminalize sex with animals, which she plans to introduce at the legislative session that begins in January. Her e-mail and phone calls are running universally in support of a ban, she says. The bill, as a draft shows, may include felony provisions against videotaping the acts. Though she considered adding an Internet provision, she admits any such ban would be difficult to police—in part because the Internet is already teeming with animal-porn sites, such as Zoo Porn, which offers "zoo dating." Her draft bill reads: "A person may not knowingly engage in any sexual conduct or sexual contact with an animal," nor knowingly "organize, promote, conduct, advertise, aid, or abet, participate in as an observer, or perform any service in the furtherance of an act involving sexual conduct or sexual contact with an animal for a commercial or recreational purpose."
Still taboo, discussion of bestiality has been opened up by the freewheeling Internet, and other media as well. Recently, on the Alan Colmes Show on Fox Radio, the host asked radical antiabortionist Neal Horsley whether it was true he had sex with animals in the past. Horsley replied: "Absolutely. I was a fool. When you grow up on a farm in Georgia, your first girlfriend is a mule." If that surprises some people, he added, "Welcome to domestic life on the farm. You experiment with anything that moves when you are growing up sexually."
Roach thinks animal abusers are often associated with child abuse, as well: "The studies people have sent me show how abusers develop by starting with something helpless, an animal; next is a child. These are patterns that develop." But her final bill will have to be carefully written, she adds, to exclude some farm-sex acts. "For example, farmers, in a routine way, inseminate animals with sperm they buy from veterinarians," the senator says. "That's an act of [animal] husbandry—that's different."