After packing dozens of bales of hay into trailers, a group of horse enthusiasts from the Baltimore area set off for Hagerstown in the early morning chill yesterday to help the local humane society care for more than 70 animals that are alleged to have been neglected.
Maureen Haley, who owns six horses on her Jarrettsville farm, helped organize the caravan and chart its nearly 80-mile trip. The group met yesterday morning at the Hunt Valley Towne Centre before setting off for Sharpsburg to deliver about 480 bales of hay.
"All of these people have diverse interests in horses, whether they're breeders, jumpers or involved with 4-H," Haley said, motioning to the group of volunteers. "We've never seen anything of this magnitude, and we wanted to help."
In late December, Barbara P. Reinken, 61, was charged with more than 70 misdemeanor counts of animal abuse and four felony counts of aggravated cruelty to animals after the Humane Society of Washington County and the county sheriff's office executed a search-and-seizure warrant at her farm near Sharpsburg.
Authorities found more than 70 horses in various stages of poor health, including one that had died of complications from a rib fracture, according to the Associated Press.
Reinken has denied mistreating the horses, saying only that she might have had too many. A trial has been set for Thursday in Washington County District Court.
The news sent a ripple through horse enthusiasts in the community. Web sites and message boards have posted articles and the names of stores and organizations that have offered to help. Fran Burns, who owns a boarding facility in Monkton, posted fliers and spread the word among horse-related clubs.
The incident has posed a significant challenge for Washington County's humane society, which is largely set up for cats and dogs and is not equipped to care for a large number of horses. The horses have been dispersed among facilities throughout the region for further care.
"This kind of outpouring of caring and generosity is just wonderful," said Katherine Cooker, manager of development and community relations for the humane society. "It can bring a tear to your eye. We did not ask for this; they have done all this themselves, a true grass-roots effort."
The humane society will have control of the horses until Reinken's court hearing, and the judge could decide to keep the animals under its care.
The horses require a significant amount of hay, Cooker said. Complicating the task for volunteers is a national hay shortage that has made quality hay more expensive and harder to find.
Most volunteers drew from their own stockpiles. Though Kelley Liverette does not own horses, she said she was heartbroken by the news reports. She contacted organizers of the caravan and purchased 31 bales of hay to help out.
"It made me sick to see how someone could treat animals that way," said Liverette of Linthicum. She also raised $340 in her community that was passed on to the veterinarians treating the animals.
According to charging documents, most of the 45 mares appeared to be pregnant because the males had not been neutered, which will require the humane society to locate foaling stalls.
The group had originally planned to make the trip to Western Maryland on Tuesday but shelved the plans because of bad weather. Sgt. Russell Newell of the Maryland State Police escorted the 10-truck caravan on his day off.