A street A-rab pony is led onto a trailer during the horses'… (Baltimore Sun photo by Jed…)
Seventeen horses that were seized by the city Health Department in the fall will be returned to Baltimore's traditional A-rab produce merchants under a deal approved by the city's spending board Wednesday.
The A-rabs, who contested the department's claims that the stables were not well-maintained, plan to pick up their horses as soon as today from the Howard County horse rescue farm where they have been boarded.
"I continue to hope that the health of those horses comes first," Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake said. "I know that the Arabbers perform a traditional service in our communities, but it can't be done at the expense of those animals."
The horses will be kept at the farm until "adequate housing" can be found, said Tania Baker, a spokeswoman for the housing department, which submitted the deal to the Board of Estimates for approval. The horses' owners agreed to training and inspections by the Humane Society and city health officials.
"They were wrong to take the horses from the beginning," said Shauntay Chase, who, with her husband, James Chase, owns seven of the horses. "It put a lot of strain on our family."
Under the agreement, the city and the Humane Society will each pay half of the $40,000 boarding costs of keeping the horses at Day's End Farm in Woodbine.
The horses were confiscated after health officials permanently closed the A-rabs' stable on South Fulton Avenue Nov. 10. The stables were in "severe disrepair," infested with rats and plagued by unclean conditions, health officials said.
But the horse owners said the stable appeared unclean because the city had padlocked it two days before the horses were taken, preventing them from cleaning it. The merchants are negotiating with another Howard County farm to stable horses there, Chase said.
Some A-rabs, known for their throaty calls and jingling carts, have been selling produce from trucks and handcarts over the winter, said Dan Van Allen, president of the Arabbers Preservation Society.
They hope to hitch their carts to horses once the weather gets warmer, Chase said.