Arkansas Horse Rescue

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On Dec. 14, 2010, our Red Star Animal Emergency Services team began assisting in the care of 116 neglected and injured horses seized in Fulton County, Arkansas. The emaciated and, in many cases, injured horses appeared to have been held on a small lot without food and water for what appeared to have been months.

Assisting our partners from the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), and in conjunction with the Humane Society of the United States, our team helped the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office with the immediate care and transport of the injured horses to a temporary shelter, where they received veterinary treatment under the custody of the Sheriff’s Office. State officials have opened an investigation into the matter and the property’s owners. The horses would be quarantined for at least 30 days before being available for adoption.

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Watch the video of our Red Star Animal Emergency Services team on the scene to help these injured and neglected animals. Learn more about the daily activities of our Red Star Animal Emergency Services™ team in Arkansas.

Tracy Reis, Program Manager, Emergency Services, filed this report on the last day of our emergency response.

Update: Dec. 21

The horses have come so far, this week after the seizure. They are all settled into their daily routines and are very welcoming every morning and night at feeding time. Every other day, they look forward to going on turn-out, where they can enjoy the sun and fresh air for a few hours. Even with the obvious improvement in their diet and surroundings, and the general “softening” and trust growing every day in the eyes of the horses, I think we all have mixed feelings about this being our last day at the barn. As accustomed as we are to seizures and sheltering, we are not used to leaving before the case has been settled. The sheltering process will be more than 30 days because of the required quarantine period for horses that have been exposed to strangles (a highly contagious respiratory disease), which all of them had been.

Our replacement crew, thankfully, came in early today, and we were able to spend time going through the daily routine, the medical sheets, and even give some tips on those horses that are a little ornery or frightened. One thing that certainly made things easier was the fact that we were turning over the daily care of the horses to the very capable hands of our partners from the ASPCA and Days End Farm Horse Rescue.

In recent times, we’ve done multiple horse seizure and sheltering operations, and each time I’m amazed at the resiliency of these wonderful animals. Some are literally on the verge of death, but they fight back with a profound spirit to live and learn to trust humans again.

As the leader of the Red Star team, I want to thank my team for yet another outstanding deployment and also thank the ASPCA for the opportunity to assist them in this very large operation. Extra kudos go out to the team that came in and unselfishly gave up holiday time with their families to give continued support and care to these horses. Neglect and cruelty don’t take holidays off either.

Debrah Schnackenberg, our Vice President, Emergency Services, filed these reports from the scene.

Dec. 14

I don’t know about the rest of my Red Star team, but I slept restlessly, thinking about the big job ahead of us tomorrow. When my alarm went off at 4:45 a.m., I was glad to get up and get going!

The team was split in two -- a team to go to the rescue site and a sheltering team. Both teams need similar expertise: expert horse handlers to manage the injured, weak and traumatized horses. Whether we are loading or unloading these horses, they need expert care. Then a couple of team members are needed to do documentation and manage paperwork -- each horse has a number, has a picture taken, and a form is filled out. A shipping manifest is created for each load of horses. When they get to the shelter, each horse is checked against the manifest, a health form is filled out for them, and this becomes the ongoing record of their health and well-being while they are in the shelter. The Transport Team has loaders and drivers. The Shelter Team has caregivers who assist with veterinarian checks and provide bedding, food, and water as the horses come out of the health checks.

Everyone is ready and eager to go. At 6:45 a.m., we hit the road for a long day.

I start my day at the rescue site. I am just appalled by what I see. One mare has what appears to be a broken shoulder that has never been taken care of at all. She limps bravely onto the truck, and I am amazed at her will to live and to go on. Then we load 5 miniature horses. They would be just adorable if they weren’t battered and ragged. They are so very thin and weak -- one little gray one is so weak she can barely stand, and I know we have to get her to the shelter right now! I was going to wait and make the trip to the shelter with the second trailer load, but holding the lead on this little weak gray horse while the others are loaded changes my mind. I want to see her through this. I’m going with the first trailer and with her!

Meanwhile the Shelter Team has been hard at work getting ready for the incoming horses. Putting down dry warm shavings in stalls, filling water tanks with clean fresh water, unloading hay from a semi-truck and stacking it near the wheelbarrows that will run up and down the aisles later in the day, carrying the first good food that many of these horses, mules and miniature horses have had in such a very long time.

I arrive at the shelter with the first transport and my little gray horse. I watch anxiously while the veterinarian and his assistant look her over. She’s in very bad shape -- swollen belly, ragged coat, runny eyes. She’s going to need special attention over the next few days. But she goes, along with her other 4 little miniature horse friends into a nice large stall, where they stand together and look around with what would appear to be looks of wonder. “What? No more freezing wind? No more standing or lying down in cold mud? What? Food?” I know horses don’t think like humans do -- so I can’t say for certain what their thoughts were -- but I can tell you that they were finally calm and comfortable and that, compared to where they had just come from was a huge difference for them.

At midday, my heart almost broke. The little gray horse was down and could not get back up. I watched her struggle and called the vet over to take a look. I like to think I’m pretty tough, but I could not stand to watch the little one struggle so hard -- so I had to walk away and go back to work and leave her in the good hands of the veterinarian.

Load after load of horses came in through the long day. We checked them off one by one as they came through and cheered each one as a success: The little bay that just wanted to bury his head in your shoulder and stand there quietly. The gray horse that looks like a walking skeleton who, slowly but with great dignity, unloaded and looked around the shelter barn and walked on shaking legs to his new, temporary home. The mare who was so beaten up that she was put in her own large stall so that the other horses wouldn’t bump into her or upset her. And, as the last transports arrived, the big stallion who let everyone know, in a loud clear clarion call, that he had arrived and was back with his herd!

At last, after dark but in record time, all the horses were in. Our final count was 116, and as the Transport Team came into the shelter, both the Transport Team and the Shelter Team became “one team” again. It was peaceful and quiet, with the only sounds coming from the dimly lit stalls -- contented horses munching hay and slurping water. Quiet humans, in American Humane Association Red Star uniforms, ASPCA hoodies, canvas coveralls and an HSUS jacket, wandered up and down the stalls shaking their heads in wonder at the difference that 12 hours of hard, caring work can make in the life of a horse.

As I headed for the American Humane Association Rescue Rig to get some dinner and sleep, I summoned the courage to go check on my little gray mare. There she was with her buddies -- on her feet munching away at her own pile of hay. I breathed a silent sigh of relief and wished her a very, very good night.

Dec. 13

It’s 6:15 a.m. at Denver International Airport, and the American Humane Association Emergency Services staff is boarding our flight that will take us to Houston, and then on to Little Rock, Ark. We’ve been asked to come in and lend a hand to the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office and our partners at the ASPCA in the seizure of 116 neglected and injured horses in northern Arkansas. We’ll be meeting more American Humane Association staff and several of our Red Star volunteers in Little Rock, to make the 4 hour drive north to the location.

I look around at the faces of these determined individuals and I know that these horses are going to be in good hands. At 2:00 p.m., we’re in Little Rock. Tonight our journey will take us to Mountain Home, where we will meet our partners from the ASPCA, receive a briefing on the situation at the site, and get an idea of what our jobs will be. It’s a very long, but pretty drive. We arrive with just enough time to get a quick dinner and then we attend an 8:00 briefing.

It’s a tough one to hear. We’re informed that 116 horses have been held on a very small property with inadequate food and care. Some are badly injured. Many are so starved that they look like walking skeletons. Others are traumatized and probably going to be very difficult to handle. The plan is to move the ones needing critical care in the first morning loads, get them to the shelter many miles away from where they have been suffering, and get them vet care, dry bedding and food. Then follow with the rest of them throughout the day.

We all look at each other. This is a lot of horses to move in one day! But this is a team of people who have done many, many horse rescues. I look around the room, and I can only feel my heart swell with pride and my eyes get a little wet -- what a great group of dedicated and expert people are in this room -- determined to rescue these horses!

We all head for bed, determined to try to get some rest. It’ll be a long day and we’ll be starting at 6:45 a.m.!

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