Three horses moved feebly Tuesday from beneath their shelters at the Humane Society of North Texas shelter in east Fort Worth.
Ribs and hipbones jutted beneath their matted, muddy winter coats. They stepped gingerly on overgrown hooves and slowly raised their heads as if to ask the visitors whether they had brought something to eat.
They were among 21 horses, three donkeys and a mule seized Monday from property northeast of Cleburne, according to Humane Society staff. Most were taken to the society’s facility off Farm Road 1187 in southern Tarrant County.
“It’s true neglect, just people not feeding them,” said Shelly Meeks, the society’s adoption coordinator. “We will be doing vet checks on these guys in the next week to see if they have any medical issues, but right now it just looks like lack of food.”
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‘It’s just another hoarding case’
The case began when people living near the property complained about the animals’ condition to the Humane Society of the United States, said Johnson County sheriff’s Detective Steve Shaw.
The national group notified the Sheriff’s Department, but deputies already knew about the property, which is 7 to 10 acres, Shaw said. They had received a tip last summer and found the animals in bad shape.
After being warned, the owner took steps to improve the animals’ health, and the livestock gained weight, Shaw said, so the case was closed until neighbors complained again.
When deputies returned to check, the animals had no hay or feed, and the muddy fields were void of grass.
The sheriff’s office asked the Humane Society of North Texas to help seize the animals, but two horses were too sick to be moved, Shaw said.
“I saw one horse from when we were out there before,” he said, “and she was just bones.”
The horse was so anemic, Shaw said, that the inside of her mouth was “creamy white” instead of pink. She and the other sick horse were euthanized on site by a veterinarian, he said.
The detective declined to identify the owner because she had not been arrested as of Tuesday. Deputies were working with prosecutors to determine what charges might be filed, he said, but felony cruelty to livestock was possible.
“It’s just another hoarding case,” Shaw said. “She had some financial issues. She gave us a lot of reasons why she didn’t keep up with them. But I think there’s a lot more of this going on than we can tell. And it’s the economy.
“People want to have that little slice of American agriculture, and it gets away from them. But if you’re going to have them, you got to take care of them. If not, you don’t need to be in this business.”
‘Healthy and fat in 30 days’
Humane Society workers have been gradually feeding hay to the surviving animals, but with extra care, Meeks said.
“If you overfeed them in this condition, they can get impacted,” she said, “and that can kill.”
A custody hearing will be set within 10 days in a Johnson County court, Meeks said.
“A judge will decide who gets to keep them,” she said. “If it’s us, the owner has 10 days to file an appeal.”
If the Humane Society prevails, the horses won’t be available for adoption until the appeals process is complete and after they’ve been nursed back to health.
All male horses are gelded before they can be adopted, and potential new owners must agree to a “home visit” to ensure they’re equipped to house a horse.
Fees to adopt a horse range from $250 to $500, “depending on what we had to invest in them,” Meeks said.
“We do try to recoup some money,” she said. “It’s very expensive for us to do all of this.”
Meanwhile, she said, the organization would appreciate donations of hay and the special horse feed, called Thrive.
“It really builds them up,” she said. “I’ve seen it take a horse from lying down dying to healthy and fat in 30 days.”
The organization is also dealing with a space crunch.
The shelter and other Humane Society holding locations are full despite an adoption event over the weekend that connected 56 dogs with new owners, Meeks said. Many had been seized at a Parker County “puppy mill” a couple of weeks ago.
“In January, almost 300 animals were taken in from cruelty situations,” Meeks said. “Of those, about 100 were livestock.
“So 2014 is off and running with a bang. That’s for sure.”