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November 11, 2009

Field Notes: Md. Horse Rescsue

19 Horses Saved from Squalor in Baltimore

The Humane Society of the United States

  • HSUS rescuer Rowdy Shaw checks on a Baltimore Cart Horse. Kathy Milani/HSUS

  • Baltimore cart horse awaits rescue. Kathy Milani/HSUS

  • Rowdy prepares a horse to be lead out. Kathy Milani/HSUS

 

The story below is a first-person account of the rescue from Scotlund Haisley, Senior Director of Emergency Services.

Horses are one of our most beloved American icons, but unfortunately their esteemed status does not exempt them from acts of cruelty and neglect. I faced this issue once again on Tuesday when our Animal Rescue Team was called in by Baltimore Animal Control to lead the rescue of 19 neglected cart horses from a squalid South Baltimore barn.

Despite their imposing size horses are extremely sensitive animals who need complex, hands-on care in order to thrive. The horses our team encountered on Tuesday were definitely not receiving that care. They were working long hours pulling carts for fruit vendors on the streets of Baltimore – a custom that dates back hundreds of years. But instead of being rewarded for their hard work they were shut away every night in filthy stalls without access to nutritious food or clean water.

Our team arrived on scene to assess the situation late Monday night. Our flashlights threw beams of light on skinny, overworked horses with feces-crusted coats and protruding ribs. From our initial assessment we knew that these 19 horses would need a special equine facility nearby to assist in their recovery. That is when I called in our friends at Days End Farm Horse Rescue. Days End is the perfect ally to assist in the transport and care of these horses.

When our combined rescue team arrived on scene Tuesday the morning sun revealed more disturbing conditions that we had not seen the night before. Lack of cleaning and leaky roofs combined to create pools of urine and rainwater that soaked the horses' sensitive feet.

It appeared that one small palomino's hooves had been left untrimmed and uncleaned for months. I saw him wince in pain as he moved gingerly about his stall on long, overgrown hooves.  A large bay mare, whose ankles should have been delicate and defined, was supported by tree-trunk legs swollen from standing for extended periods of time. Another gelding had a large, gaping wound on his hindquarters, presumably caused by pulling a poorly fitted cart through city streets.

We were gentle with the horses as our team went down the rows of stalls leading them out into the light. Some were obviously in pain, and reluctant to get into the trailers. Others left their stalls easily with the lure of sweet carrots and the promise of a better life ahead. By early afternoon we had loaded all of the horses up and were on our way to Days End, which is 25 miles West of Baltimore in Maryland's Howard County.

When we arrived at the farm and began unloading our precious cargo they stepped into a life completely different than the one they had left. There was fresh air and sunshine, clean stalls lined thick with straw, troughs of nutritious feed, buckets of clean water and people willing to give them the love and proper care they so desperately need.

When all 19 horses had been unloaded I went from stall to stall to check on each one. All of them – from the small grey-and-white paint pony to the 17-hand black gelding, were attacking their salt licks with vigor and munching contentedly on a much-needed dinner. They looked relaxed and contented in a way they hadn't just hours before. While I will not be fully satisfied until the horses' custody is determined I am glad on this cold, rainy day that those 19 animals will not be pulling heavy carts through the city streets or languishing in a swampy barn.

 

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