Deputies in Van Zandt County, along with officials from the SPCA of Texas, on Tuesday took custody of 87 animals they say were being cruelly treated on a rural property near Canton, about 30 miles east of Dallas.
According to an SPCA news release, 50 additional dead and decomposing horses were found on the East Texas property.
“It was just a sea of dead horses,” SPCA of Texas spokeswoman Victoria Albrecht told the Star-Telegram. “It was just heartbreaking.”
Authorities found 70 live horses, nine donkeys, six pigs and one longhorn on the property and relocated them, according to the release. Some of the horses had become so desperate for nourishment that they were eating the bark of the trees on the property.
The SPCA received a complaint of suspected animal cruelty and visited the property on March 3. After seeing horses with overgrown and cracked hooves and other animals suffering from malnourishment, open sores, hair loss and diarrhea, representatives from the organization began working with property owners on caring for the animals, the release said.
Half of the animals were found roaming on a large, fenced pasture on the property with little or no access to food or water. The pigs were being held in a wire pen with no access to food.
At that time the SPCA was not aware of the dead and decomposing bodies of horses strewn around a creek bed on the property. SPCA investigators returned to check on the animals on March 15 and March 28, according to the release.
On March 30, the agency said, its representatives received a complaint of more than 50 dead horses on the property, which prompted another visit from the SPCA, who were followed by law enforcement personnel on April 3 to gather evidence.
“One deceased horse was removed so that a necropsy can be performed to determine cause of death,” the release said.
A custody hearing for the animals is scheduled for April 19 at the Van Zandt County Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2. The Van Zandt County Sheriff’s Department did not immediately return a phone call requesting comment on the case.
East Texas television station KLTV published a slide show of photos from the scene, some of which are graphic in nature.