Starving Horse Response (Maryland)

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On Sept. 27, a Red Star Animal Emergency Services team deployed to Lisbon, Md., to help care for seven starving, dehydrated and critically ill horses that were seized from a horse rescue facility in Berkeley County, W.Va.

Five members of our team rushed to the aid of Days End Farm Horse Rescue after the call came to assist with seven horses requiring 24-hour observation and acute care. The seven horses -- including six Thoroughbreds -- were the most cruelly neglected of 53 horses seized in West Virginia. According to a local veterinarian, the seven skin-and-bones horses may not have been fed for as long as three months.

Veteran Red Star disaster responder Diane Robinson said the seven horses are “the worst I’ve ever seen.” One is simply too weak to stand on his own and is being supported by a sling, and all are severely emaciated and dehydrated. Our Red Star team is keeping the horses hydrated and medicated on a regular basis, and staying vigilant to ensure that any small wound caused by a seemingly harmless bump or halter rub doesn’t become infected. “They’re so thin-skinned and in such a weakened state that their immune systems aren’t strong enough to fight off anything,” said Diane.

Although no criminal charges against the West Virginia facility have been filed, the damage to the horses has been done -- and nursing them back to health will be a long and costly process. 

Update: Oct. 8, 2010

Although our Red Star team returned from Days End Farm Horse Rescue on Oct. 3, we have been keeping in close contact regarding the condition of the “Lucky West Virginia 7,” as the horses being cared for there are now affectionately known. Days End Farm Volunteer Coordinator Caroline Robertson sent this update on Oct. 7:

Buttercup and Aaron were turned out together today, and they were bucking and rearing and enjoying the sunny fall day we were having -- everyone stopped to watch and enjoy the lovebirds frolicking. Felicity and Casanova were not as eventful in their turn out, but they are packing on the pounds. We like that! Disco still has a drain in his sinuses, and Zodiac now has a special machine that massages his legs -- and he’s loving it! He also now has a special stool for his food and continues to dribble his mash everywhere; however, all his slurping is now our favorite sound to hear in the barn! Yogi remains in critical condition and continues to receive round-the-clock care.

In other news regarding this case, charges were filed on Oct. 7 against the operator of the Berkeley County, W.Va., horse rescue where the 53 horses and two cows were seized, including the seven horses now at Days End Farm. Mary O’Brien, operator of Hidden Meadows Equine Rescue, was booked into the Berkeley County Eastern Region Jail on 56 misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty, and her bail has been set at $280,000. Most of the animals seized were quickly adopted out by Animal Control and have found new homes with Berkeley County residents.

Once again, a huge, huge thank you for all the help last week. We can’t tell you how much we appreciated it -- there are just no words really.

Update: Sept. 30, 2010

Dean Berenbaum, resource manager for our Emergency Services program and Red Star responder, reporting from Days End Farm Horse Rescue:

The seven critically ill horses continue to receive 24-hour care. The Days End Farm staff is so caring and knowledgeable as they chart the day-to-day battle against the numerous ills that still trouble the horses. Starvation and neglect have taken a toll on their bodies, but the horses are little trouble themselves and their personalities show through despite their ordeal.

Aaron, a 3-year-old gelding, is an escape artist; he pokes his head out of his stall door and looks like he would go out for a walk in the barn if we didn’t watch him closely. Zodiac, in the sling, is simply not a quitter. He has just about everything wrong with him, but he loves to eat and enjoys me holding his food bucket for him. Then he tugs away at the hay in his “nibble net.”

One of my favorites is Felicity, who -- despite her advanced age and severely emaciated condition -- held quite still and really seemed to enjoy her morning grooming session. I was told she was very touchy about anyone near her rear end, but she didn’t object at all while being brushed.

Today it rained hard all morning, and the Days End Farm staff had a wet, muddy go at the morning feeding. American Humane Association staff members have been working split 12-hour shifts. The day shift -- besides feeding, care and treatment, such as cleaning wounds, applying salves and ointments, and grooming -- took on some additional cleaning of the feeding room, hay storage room and medical room.

With the horses in such bad shape, it is natural to try to look on the bright side and hope that improvement is just a matter of time and good supportive care. But in reality, one quickly learns that these large, powerful animals are rather fragile, even when healthy and not neglected. And bad conditions can worsen quickly. This afternoon has been rough for Yogi, a 9-year old-mare and one of the worst off.

So we continue to do everything we can to help. Giving up is not an option, and every person here is putting heart and soul into giving these horses every chance to pull through. And so we head into another overnight shift…

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