ASHLAND — Two decrepit barns, thick with dust and cobwebs, greeted rescuers when they arrived at a rural Ohio property on that cold fall morning.
“It really, truly looked abandoned, except there were animals living in there,” said Laura Koivula, director of animal crimes and investigations for the Animal Rescue Team.
In November, the Humane Socity of the United States assisted the Ashland County Sheriff’s Office with the rescue of 16 horses, six goats and several cats and dogs from an alleged neglect situation in Ashland. The Humane Society of Ashland County, Days End Farm Horse Rescue and Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary also assisted with the rescue.
Rescuers could see the severity of the situation as soon as they entered the first barn, says HSUS Ohio state director Mark Finneran, who was on scene helping the rescue team.
Inside, responders found six goats with hooves so overgrown they started to curl upward, resembling elf shoes. A goat with a horn curling into his head attempted to climb the sides of his enclosure. His stall was so filled with waste it took several responders to pry the door open.
“It was definitely a wake-up call and a reminder for what I was in for,” Finneran said.
In the second barn, the horses’ overgrown and damaged hooves sunk into several feet of manure. A blind mare with a ruptured eye that had scarred over paced around her pen as responders examined the scene.
The animals seemed scared and overwhelmed at the start of the day, Finneran said. But as responders carefully led the animals from their enclosures to the transport vehicles, he felt “this sense of relief that permeated all of the animals.”
After the rescue, the animals went to safe locations to receive veterinary care.
Rescuers did find some positive outcomes. The surviving animals have taken in by sanctuaries — such as the six goats who went to Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary in Ohio — and shelters and rescues.
Dogs Thelma and Louise went to Baypath Humane Society in Massachusetts, and by early January, they were both adopted. Within two hours of entering her new home, Louise rolled over on the bed, demanding belly rubs from her owners.
The blind mare, now named Magnolia, went to This Old Horse, an equine sanctuary in Minnesota. After recovering from eye surgery, she will join a small group of blind horses who will help her transition to life at the sanctuary.
Sadly, nearly half of the rescued horses had to be euthanized due to the severity of a variety of conditions resulting from years of apparent neglect.
“There were a number of different issues, mostly chronic but some acute, that had been left untreated for so long they were beyond a stage that could be humanely managed,” Koivula said.
One brown mare who was found emaciated and unable to walk on her own was euthanized after a veterinarian examination determined that she was in severe pain that would persist even with treatment to her feet. As the mare munched on hay in a warm stall, rescuers gave her affection and treats during her last moments.
A white male cat — found by rescuers barely conscious and immediately removed from the scene for emergency veterinary care — was also euthanized after spending a week at a veterinary hospital.
Staff members tried their best to save him, but despite an emergency blood transfusion and other efforts, he continued to decline and the team decided to end his suffering.
It’s rare for such a high percentage of rescued animals to require euthanization in situations like this one, according to Koivula.
“This was a truly tragic case,” she said.