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posted: 3/18/2012 5:00 AM

Danada horse tiff shows there are 3 sides to a story

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Apparently, there are two factions among the people who volunteer at the Danada Equestrian Center in Wheaton, run by the DuPage Forest Preserve District.

One group had a complaint that was scheduled to be taken up at the forest preserve board meeting a few days ago. It centered on a letter signed by 34 current and former volunteers at Danada. The letter stated the volunteers were concerned about "the well-being of the horses, the loss of educational opportunities and the lack of consideration and regard shown to the volunteers by managerial staff."

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The other volunteer group, which came to the fore the day after our story appeared, seemed ready to defend the place to the death. One such volunteer has been in continual contact with Elisabeth Mistretta, the reporter who wrote the story. That volunteer's letter to the editor, expressing the opposite point of view about horse treatment at Danada, appeared in Saturday's editions. Two more appear on the same page as this column.

In a shocking development, one of them places the blame at the feet of the Daily Herald. Our story, the writer says, was "unbalanced and inflammatory," In fact, even writing about this is "irresponsible" and more befitting of the National Enquirer.

Whoa, Nellie. At the risk of getting a shade defensive, let me respond to the allegations. Our headline read: "Forest district examines claims of horse neglect." The Enquirer wouldn't give such a lame headline the time of day. But the headline and the story make it clear that the forest preserve has been responsive to the allegations. In fact, the charges were deemed serious enough that the district launched an internal probe. It concluded one of the most serious charges -- that a horse was hit in the leg with a hammer and in the stomach with a rasp so hard the tool broke -- was overblown. Further, the education director at Danada pointed out the group that complained didn't represent all of Danada's 154 volunteers, Mistretta's story noted.

I know not everyone is going to be happy with every last word we write, especially if one's ox, or horse, is being gored. But what else should we do? We hear of complaints, from the very people who volunteered at Danada, of animal and people neglect. Should we pretend it didn't happen because the accusations might not be dead on the money? No, we check it out. We try to be fair to both sides. It's what we do. But I still marvel at the way some people get so angry if we even raise the issue.

On the other hand, I find it refreshing when one can channel his or her disappointment over an issue in a constructive manner. That seems to be occurring with less regularity these days. But take the other letter appearing on today's editorial page. It's from another volunteer, one who clearly disagrees with the charges from the complaining group, but she doesn't even bring up the controversy. Instead, the writer extols the virtues of Danada, citing her almost joyous experience as a summer camper and a teen volunteer, where she learned "invaluable lessons on responsibility and teamwork."

The other thing we've told the volunteer who complained about our coverage is that we're not finished. It's quite common to not be able to talk to all sides (and this story seems to have three sides -- the forest preserve administration and the two volunteer groups) before we publish a story. But there's always the next day's editions or the next meeting of the forest preserve board.

Beth already is working on a story, which we plan to publish Tuesday, that will give the "happy" volunteers a little more say. And even though it's Election Day, Beth will be covering the resumed forest preserve meeting on the topic.

Because that's what we do, too.

jdavis@dailyherald.com

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