Woodbine farm treats starving horses

26 neglected horses found in W.Md taken to Days End Farm

May 23, 2010|By Michael E. Ruane, The Washington Post

No. 9 is a tall, rangy horse familiar with people but a good 300 pounds underweight. His ribs protrude beneath his skin. He has no fat on his body and little muscle, and he is in the last stages of starvation.

In a stall across from him stands No. 26, an emaciated bay gelding with probable stomach parasites. He watches over No. 17, a skittish 6-month-old filly in the next stall that flinches at an extended hand.

Outside, in a pasture, there's No. 3, another skinny horse, with an abscessed tooth, and several other horses that have had so little contact with people that they're virtually wild.

They are among 26 horses, many starving and neglected, that were taken May 13 from a farm in Garrett County to the Days End Farm Horse Rescue facility in Woodbine in Howard County.

The horses, in addition to cattle and goats, were found in a muddy field devoid of much grass, where the hungry animals had apparently gnawed away tree bark to stay alive, said a rescue farm official and a volunteer with the Garrett Humane Society.

The field was also littered with animal remains, some of which appeared to have been burned in a refuse pile, the rescue farm official said.

The animals were taken from the field at the behest of the Garrett Humane Society after an inspection by a local veterinarian, said Deb Clatterbuck, a volunteer investigator with the Humane Society. An anonymous caller had contacted the agency about the situation.

The veterinarian, Fred Adams, said Friday: "The basic problem is [that] too many horses and cattle on too limited an amount of property with inadequate nutrition resulted in a lot of very thin, emaciated, weak animals."

Clatterbuck declined to identify the animals' owner, saying that information was being gathered.

Garrett State's Attorney Lisa Thayer Welch said Friday that the investigation was being conducted by the Humane Society, which under Maryland law can seek charges through District Court.

A District Court commissioner would review an application. If probable cause is found, the court would issue the appropriate charges via a summons or a warrant, she said. Her office would prosecute. She said an investigation was under way.

The horses were taken in a trailer convoy to Days End. The other animals were taken elsewhere.

"We took in 26 horses," said Susan Mitchell, development director at the rescue farm. "Their health condition ranges from poor to critically ill."

"There were 40 or more animals living in a roughly 5-acre pasture with little to no grass, no food, no water," she said. "That particular pasture was littered with carcasses in various states of decomposition — horses and cows. [There was] evidence of carcasses being burned, buried, rocks piled on them."

She had photographs taken at the site that she said showed how animals had chewed the bark off trees as far up as they could reach. Other photos showed partially buried animal skulls and bones.

On a tour of the rescue stables and pasture this week, Mitchell showed some of the horses, identified by the numbered tags on their halters.

All had just received a preliminary veterinary exam and "all the hay they want," she said, and long-term plans for the horses' recovery were being developed.

"This guy's actually one of the worst," she said, motioning at a 20-year-old chestnut gelding. Mangyjllooking but friendly, he wore a No. 26 tag on his red halter.

"He is a starvation case," she said. "His winter coat ... is hiding his skeleton. But if you put your hands on this horse, what you would feel is skin stretched over a skeleton. He has no measurable body fat. You can feel his vertebrae, his hips, his chest."

On a body condition scale, which runs from one to nine (nine being obese, five healthy, two emaciated and one starving), "this horse is a one," she said. He is about 300 pounds underweight. He also probably has parasites, which tend to bloat the belly, she said.

In the next stall was the filly that was "very, very bonded" with the older horse, Mitchell said. "He obviously feels responsible for her safety. When we first brought them in, we had them both in this stall, and when she lay down to nap, he stood over her."

"She is very fearful," Mitchell said. "She's had little to no human handling, and it's extremely intense trying to work with her." The horse pulled back when Mitchell extended a hand to pet her.

Mitchell turned to No. 9, a tall, skin-and-bones animal across the walkway. He, too, was hundreds of pounds underweight, she said, his hide taut over his ribs and hips.

"This horse's life is actually in jeopardy," she said. "This is obviously a horse that is in the last phases of starving to death. Had there not been intervention, this horse would not have been able to survive more than a few more months. ... This would be the worst condition a horse could come into on our property and still be alive."

Not all of the impounded horses were in such bad shape. Two muscular-looking stallions were underweight but not emaciated. And many of the thin horses looked bright-eyed and curious.

"Horses live in the moment," Mitchell said. "They're not thinking about last week. We're thinking about last week."

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