Jun. 11—More than 30 horses have been rescued from derelict conditions on a farm in northern Otsego County.
The Otsego County Sheriff's Office and the Susquehanna SPCA partnered to relocate the horses from what is believed to be a hoarding case, according to Stacie Haynes, director of the Susquehanna SPCA.
The owner, who was not identified, was fully cooperative and voluntarily surrendered the horses, Haynes said. She was not criminally charged.
"It's easy for people to think that you can just go in and seize all the animals and charge the person right then and there," Haynes said. "It's not that simple."
All but five of the horses were successfully relocated to the Otsego County Fairgrounds in Morris by Thursday evening, according to Haynes.
"It's just another example of a good person whose love for animals went in a bad direction," Haynes said. "She thought she was doing a good job, but she could not keep up physically and financially."
"If you look at their papers, the lineage is great, but when you've got stallions running with mares, you don't know who bred with who," said Sue Schoonover, a volunteer from Edmeston who helped transport some of the horses with her 17-year-old daughter, Quinn, and her boyfriend, Brady Cowan.
When the shelter was tipped off by a couple of anonymous complaints of cruelty, Haynes said, a deputy visited the property last month and found the horses in poor condition.
The owner was given one month to address the situation, Haynes said, and immediately signed over two of the horses that were found to be in the worst shape.
Four weeks later to the day, a team of 12 to 15 "good Samaritans" pitched in to coax the horses out of the barn, Schoonover said, surveying the property Wednesday evening and starting the transfer early Thursday morning.
Volunteers waded through waste-deep manure in the barns to reach the horses, Schoonover said; many of which were never tamed or had even been outside the barns they were born in.
All of the horses exhibited telltale signs of neglect: curled hooves, stunted growth, protruding ribs and drooping abdomens, likely from parasites.
Identifying the breed as Arabian, Schoonover surmised that the horses' stamina is "likely what kept them alive."
A mare named Jenny was found caring for her two-week-old foal, Dozer, on a mound of manure about eight feet high, Schoonover said.
Another of Jenny's offspring, a 3-year-old colt named Chunk, had never been away from his mother and struggled against their separation.
Despite the horses' limited history of human interaction, Schoonover said, "they've all been sweethearts."
"They're happy just to be," she said.
Although the horses were the only animals on the farm, Haynes said shelter staff and county officials will continue to work with the owner to ensure she has access to the resources she needs.
"We continue to see this problem where farmers are struggling to care for their animals," Haynes said. "It's frustrating to understand why people don't ask for help. We're seeing an awful lot of pride."
The horses will be available for adoption by the shelter, Haynes said, and almost all are in immediate need of foster homes.
"We're a small organization with a small staff and some very amazingly dedicated volunteers," she said. "We don't really have the capacity to handle this, but we have no choice."