SOUTH WHITLEY — Eleven horses in various states of emaciation and neglect were taken into the Shadarobah Horse Rescue recently following an investigation in Whitley County.
One horse had to be euthanized due to her condition. The remaining horses are now affectionately referred to as “The Whitley 10.”
On Jan. 28, Indiana State Board of Animal Health Compliance Director Jennifer Price and BOAH District 3 Field Veterinarian Shelly Chavis, DVM, met with Whitley County Environmental Health Specialist Scott Wagner at a property on South CR 850W in South Whitley to evaluate several horses. The investigation was reportedly prompted by a complaint. The owners were not present and do not live on site.
According to court documents, Wagner went to check with the owners at their residence to see if they would like to meet with the BOAH to discuss the condition of the horses.
Deputy Scott Schmitt from the Whitley County Sheriff’s Department arrived at the property shortly after Wagner left. Wagner later called and reported that John Thomas was the owner of the horses and that Thomas did not want to meet with them. John Thomas also reportedly told Wagner that his wife would come to the property and shoot them if she knew about the complaint and the evaluation.
At that time, Wagner advised the others not to go to the owner’s residence or return to the property without law enforcement. The horses and ponies were evaluated from the road since Whitley County health officials did not have permission to go onto the property.
Court documents indicate the fence along the road was built with metal T-posts and hog panel farm fence. Many of the posts and panels were leaning and needed further support. There were piles of debris laying around the pasture that appeared to be aluminum gates, metal siding and gutters. The trash and debris was concerning since sharp edges can cause cuts or lacerations to the animals, which can lead to infection.
Officials were unable to determine if the horses had access to shelter.
At the time of the inspection, 17 horses and ponies were found at the property. The animals were evaluated. The body condition scores of the horses and ponies were done by visual examination.
The majority of the horses under the care of John Thomas were emaciated. Twelve of the 17 horses and ponies had a body condition of 3.0 or below. An average body score is between 4.0 to 6.0.
Significant malnutrition (body condition score below 3.5) causes an animal to utilize its stored energy reserve and fat to provide enough energy to stay alive. Once an animal has utilized the majority of its body fat, it will begin breaking down its own muscle protein to try to produce enough energy to stay alive. Animals scoring 2.5 or lower are considered to have severe malnutrition, and those scoring 2.0 or lower have utilized nearly all of their body fat and have begun breaking down their muscle tissue in an effort to stay alive.
On Feb. 3, the state requested an order from the Whitley County court permitting law enforcement officers, with the assistance of BOAH and another party, to assist in the removal and relocation of the 17 horses at that location. Court documents said that 11 of the horses in John Thomas’ care were considered to be very thin. Under the current circumstances, the life and well-being of those horses were in jeopardy.
The order was granted on Feb. 4. Upon return to the location on Feb. 4, it was found that six of the horses were no longer there.
Court documents show that John Thomas and Deborah Thomas, 4035 S. SR 5, South Whitley, were each charged with one count of abandonment or neglect of a vertebrate animal, a class A misdemeanor. Their first court appearance related to the charges is scheduled for Tuesday, March 2.
Information found on the Shadarobah Horse Rescue Facebook page said that the majority of the horses they took in from South Whitley were at a body condition scale of 1 to 1.5 and were considered critical.
“Upon arrival, our crew had to pass downed power lines, eight plus skeletons of deceased horses and garbage covering the enclosures of the horses,” a Facebook post on their page read.
The horses “were in varying states of physical and emotional decline,” said Kris Lindower of Shadarobah.
Current needs for “The Whitley 10” include dental care, hoof care, veterinary care and basics needs such as hay, grain, salt, mineral blocks and grooming items.
Shadarobah’s mission is to save horses from slaughter, abuse and neglect, eventually placing them in loving and nurturing homes. They plan to host several fundraising events, concerts and cook-outs to raise the necessary funds to care for the horses and continue their mission.
The rescue group is looking for sponsors for “The Whitley 10.” Sponsorships include personal updates from the horses, photographs and more.
Donations may be dropped off at: Northeast Fire & EMS, Base 170,15226 Tonkle Road
Leo, IN 46765.