A herd of five starving horses on the outskirts of Grants Pass in rural Josephine County, Oregon were saved when a couple women passing by saw the animals, with their ribs and spines protruding, took pictures and posted them to social media on July 26.
Officer David Pitts of Josephine County Animal Control says the women used cell phones to take pictures, and such photos “speak volumes.”
The incident provides a lesson on what to do when you see a starving or neglected animal.
The horses, mainly Arabs, have been taken to Darla Clark and her nonprofit Oregon horse rescue Strawberry Mountain to be rehabilitated. The rescue is fundraising for their care and calling them the “Josephine 5.” Their progress is being documented on Strawberry Mountain’s Facebook page.
Pitts says the horses have been starving for more than a year, but no one could see them to document it because of the layout and location of the property. But horses had gotten out, probably in search of food, and fortuitously were seen and documented — the photos showed the front of the property. It was the toe in the door he needed, Pitts says. Clark was tagged in the posts, and she advised that Josephine County’s animal control be alerted. Pitts and his coworkers were soon heading out to the property.
“In less than 12 hours we had seized the horses. When I get that kind of information, I’m not going to go away,” Pitts says.
The images were posted to Facebook, and Pitts says such social media can be a positive and a negative. “The horse community is a mine of information when it comes to animal abuse,” he says.
But at the same time, if the owners of the animals see the posts they will sometimes have a heads-up to hide the animals or evidence of neglect.
Pitts says when he arrived and questioned the owner, the man admitted owning the horses, and Pitts says, “from 45 yards away, I could see these animals were … well, it was terrible.”
He says the five horses had bodyweight scores of 1, 1.5 and 2 on a scale of 1-9 and had bites and kick marks from fighting for food when the man did throw them some hay.
“The first thing he comes up with is complaining about the d-a-m-n neighbors,” Pitts tells EW. The man panicked about the Facebook posts and wanted to get rid of the horses, and he tried to contact a local rescue.
Pitt says he told the man, “I’ll give you an hour’s time.” He says the man knew they were starved and knew he was going to get in trouble when people saw the condition of the horses, “but you spent the last year starving them.”
Pitts, a retired state peace officer, suggests if people see horses that are starving or neglected to give him (or their local animal control) a call — you can remain anonymous. He says to get photo that shows the animals and their location, or the very best thing to do is take video, in which you speak, give the date and time and say exactly where you are.
Oregon has the nation’s first dedicated, full-time animal cruelty prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Jake Kamins, who is funded by a three-year grant from the Animal Legal Defense Fund. Pitts says that Kamins will get the case.
On July 28, the horses were taken to Strawberry Mountain in Josephine County Search and Rescue’s trailer to be rehabbed. Pitts says Clark immediately had a vet on site to help the horses to document the extent of the neglect and give the horses official body scores.
Most law enforcement agencies use the Henneke body score system, which rates horses from 1, poor, where the bone structure easily noticeable, the spine projects prominently and the animal is extremely emaciated, to 9, extremely fat, where the animal is bulging with fat.
Clark says the thinnest horse, a 7-year old bay mare that she thinks is a thoroughbred cross, was the most starved and scored a 1. An 18-month-old sorrel colt scored a 2, and the other three Arab mares, one of them a registered Arab, all scored 1.5s.
Through the first week, a dozen Strawberry Mountain volunteers “worked to feed the horses small meals every few hours, following the UC Davis refeeding protocol,” Clark says, adding, “One mare had to have IV fluids ran, another was described by a vet as sounding as if she’d ‘run an endurance race’ with her heart and lungs struggling. They were all too exhausted to pick up their feet. The young stud colt had several bouts of colic, likely due not only to starvation but to the severe parasite load.”
The horses are now down to three meals a day and will soon be able to have free-choice alfalfa. Clark is posting weekly updates on their improvement. She says the horses, three bay mares ages 7-15, a sorrel mare age 11 and the sorrel colt all need dental work and farrier work. Some are so sore — the stud colt can’t turn his neck to the left — that she is having bodywork done on the animals and “hoping some pain relief will up the appetites.”
Clark and Strawberry Mountain garnered fame in the U.S. and abroad when they nursed back to health a mare named Grace, who was so emaciated that the 28-year-old horse weighed only 560 pounds — 500 pounds underweight. Grace lived for a year after her rescue before dying of the effects of starvation. Her owner and caretakers were convicted of first- and second-degree animal neglect in a case that went all the way to Oregon’s Supreme Court.