- Associated Press - Saturday, February 13, 2016

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) - Sometimes it takes a village to set things right after tragedy strikes, and that’s exactly what happened when dozens of starving horses needed help and new homes.

When the news broke in October that more than 100 sick and starving horses, donkeys and mules were found at Peaceable Farm in Orange County, the equine rescue community immediately stepped up to help. Now those animals have a new lease on life.

Hope’s Legacy Equine Rescue took in 29 of the horses, as well as a miniature donkey, said executive director Maya Proulx. Of the horses they rescued, five had to be put down soon afterward, but Proulx said the remaining horses are doing well.

“They’re getting to go out into the fields and be regular horses,” Proulx said. “At first, they had to stay in their stalls; they were just too weak and compromised health-wise to go out into the field because they couldn’t eat the grass.

“They’ve come a long way.”

Proulx said that when the horses arrived, they were extremely thin and some were wary of human contact. To begin the healing process, it was just a matter of feeding the neglected animals and getting them reacquainted with kindness, Proulx said.

“We didn’t have to do a huge amount, other than feed them,” she said. “They were surprisingly healthy, other than the starvation. Some of them had some digestive issues that we had to treat.”

“They’re pretty easy,” she added, laughing. “You just pump food into them and they’re happy.”

Surprising support

It’s expensive to feed and care for that many horses. That’s why Rachel Miller, from Charlottesville Southern States Cooperative, decided to help. When the horses were seized from Peaceable Farm, she sent out a plea on the business’s Facebook page, asking customers to donate the cost of feed or other supplies for the rescued horses.

“Our first thought was that we didn’t want these people to have immediate bills for the food for these horses,” Miller said.

Southern States itself donated a ton of Triple Crown Nutrition feed, as well as alfalfa. The company also delivered the food, free of charge, to Hope’s Legacy and other rescue organizations involved in the Peaceable Farm case to give rescuers more time to spend with the horses in need.

The Facebook post eventually reached 13,000 people. Miller said members of equine communities in New York, Tennessee and North Carolina called to see how they could help. In just the first few days after the post went live, Miller and her team at Southern States received 3½ tons of feed to give to the rescue organizations that took in animals from Peaceable Farm. From Oct. 19 to Dec. 1, they gave more than 32,000 pounds of hay to the rescue groups, Miller said.

“That’s a lot, but we’re trying to get people to continue donating,” Miller said. “These horses are eating massive amounts to regain weight, and they’re going through food incredibly fast.”

“It truly was the horse community from all over who pulled together,” she added. “I was just amazed.”

In addition to feed, Miller said, the rescue groups need shavings to keep the horses warm in the barn and money to hire professional trainers to help get the horses ready to find new homes. The rescue account still is open at Southern States, and Miller said people still are welcome to donate, but the donations will not be tax-deductible unless given directly to the nonprofit rescue groups.

“We don’t want people to forget these particular horses, but there are other horses also being picked up by these rescues,” Miller said. “This happens every day on a smaller scale, and help needs to keep going.”

Proulx said she was especially grateful that the food and other items could be delivered weekly. She said it also helped financially to be able to get enough food to nurse the horses back to health.

“It was great because the care for these guys was pretty intense in the beginning,” Proulx said. “It took a huge burden off of us. Not having to run to town to pick stuff up was really helpful.”

So much food was donated through Southern States that Proulx said she didn’t need to purchase feed for the rescue until late January.

“The help has lasted right on through,” Proulx said. “It’s pretty remarkable.”

The recovery process

The owner of Peaceable Farm, Anne Shumate Williams, faces numerous animal cruelty charges. She is due in Orange General District Court on Feb. 19, according to online records.

County Sheriff Mark Amos said at the time of Williams’ arrest that the property “was one of the most horrendous sites that I have seen in my 28 years of law enforcement.”

When a horse suffers from starvation, the animal’s body begins to break down the sugars stored in its liver, before moving on to the fat beneath the skin and eventually the internal organs, said Dr. Virginia DeChant, a veterinarian at Keswick Equine Clinic.

“When it gets really bad and they’ve lost all their fat and muscle tissue, they start attacking the organs,” DeChant said. “At that point, the animal can only last a matter of days to a week.”

If the animal is rescued in time, DeChant said, it’s a matter of getting a lot of food into the horse without overwhelming its body. To start the recovery process, it’s important to start with multiple very small meals until the horse’s system can take in more substantial calories, she said.

“If you throw too many calories at them right away, it overloads their system,” she said.

Once the horse is in the clear, DeChant said, it needs to eat as much hay as it can to rebuild itself and gain weight. Often, veterinarians also recommend protein-heavy grains to help the animal rebuild muscle tissue.

As the horses at Hope’s Legacy eat all the hay they can get, others have found new homes. Some of the horses the organization rescued were given to foster homes in the area to give them more one-on-one attention, and Proulx said some of those homes decided to adopt the horses.

“They’re starting to find homes and move on to whatever life holds for them,” Proulx said.


Information from: Richmond Times-Dispatch, https://www.timesdispatch.com



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