DEWEY — It's still too early to tell if horses taken from a rural Vermilion County farm and transported to a rural Dewey horse rescue earlier this month will survive.
Eleven emaciated horses were taken from the farm near Muncie. Two others from there were brought to the horse rescue earlier.
The female owner of the animals agreed to allow the horses to be taken to the horse rescue. No charges are being filed against the owner, whom officials declined to identify.
Margaret Bojko, a University of Illinois veterinary student, board member and volunteer at the Society for Hooved Animals' Rescue and Emergency, said time will tell if all the horses survive.
"They are still battling but are doing OK," Bojko said. "It is going to take some time before we really see a big difference in condition."
Carol Thompson, a licensed humane investigator with the Illinois Department of Agriculture, said the horses' condition was "very bad" when they were rescued.
The first day the horses were at SHARE, on Jan. 11, a veterinarian did blood work on the six worst-off ones to monitor their heart condition. They were also given a shot of a long-lasting antibiotic. The veterinarian returned four days later to administer a second shot of antibiotic and will continue the regular visits to monitor them for several weeks.
All of the horses were suffering from neglect. A 12th horse was found dead at the farm near Muncie, about 2 miles east of Fithian.
While 11 horses were taken from the farm that day, a total of 13 previously owned by the woman are now at SHARE. The week before the horses were taken, one horse named Montana escaped from the farm, and with the help of an animal control officer, the horse was transported to the rescue center. And in November, a volunteer convinced the owner to give her Domino, a young horse, to provide urgent medical care.
Two of the horses are blind, and it is not known if that condition can be reversed, but Lori Cooper, a SHARE board member, said it is not believed the blindness is due to malnourishment. One of the horses collapsed while being loaded onto a trailer.
Investigators with SHARE and the Illinois Department of Agriculture, which had been monitoring the horses' condition, decided to move in when a neighbor reported a dead horse in a barn.
Thompson said several neighbors in prior months had alerted authorities to the horses' declining condition. Investigators had cited the owner for violations, and she would comply temporarily. But the owner would then go back to not feeding and watering the horses, Thompson said.
In the latest instance, the most important thing was to get the horses to a safe environment because they were in such bad shape and bad weather was forecast, Thompson said.
Cooper said a newspaper account of the horses' condition has sparked interest in the animals and the horse rescue and has resulted in some offers of help. She said the horse rescue was full even before the 13 horses were taken there. Now, it is even more so.
Cooper said one volunteer who was planning to take a foster horse before the rescue has accelerated the process and has prepared her place to take Dusty, a Morgan horse.
"We have another previous adopter who is making arrangements to be able to pick up another horse from us to foster," Cooper said.
She said the agency has had a couple of inquiries about fostering the horses that were just rescued, but the horses must stay at SHARE for care and treatment for now.
"For better or worse our volunteers are experienced at caring for horses in their condition and know what to watch out for," Cooper said. The horses "also need frequent vet visits, so it makes sense for them to be in one place."
She said the new horses also need to remain quarantined from other horses.
"In most setups, this means they need to be in a different building than other horses, and you need to change clothes, wash hands and wash boots with bleach before interacting with other horses. It's not reasonable to put that responsibility on a foster home," Cooper said.
The horse rescue has also received about $520 in donations plus a $150 Rural King gift card from a Penfield resident.
"We have a few people who are making plans to bring stuff by the rescue, so we hope to see more," Cooper said. "We really need all the help we can get. The costs for caring for these horses alone will be huge, in addition to the ongoing costs for caring for the other 52 horses at the rescue."
Cooper said the horse rescue has also had a number of new volunteers sign up and almost 100 new followers on Facebook since the horse rescue was publicized.
Cooper said more donations and more volunteers are welcome. To find out how to volunteer or to donate via Paypal, visit the SHARE website at http://www.s-h-a-r-e.net. Checks can be sent to SHARE at P.O Box 6933, Champaign, IL 61826.
Purchases can also be made for the horse rescue at Prairieland Feeds in Savoy and at both the Champaign and Rantoul Rural King locations, and ask the employees to put the items in the back for a SHARE volunteer to pick up. The primary need for the horses is good grass and alfalfa hay and senior feed.
A costly business
Cooper estimated it will cost the rescue close to $10,000 in the 90 days that it will take for the horses to make a full recovery.
— $889 for grain (average of 2 pounds a day of senior feed for each horse).
— $4,095 for hay (about 30 pounds of hay per horse per day, which is more than normal, but Cooper said they need the extra calories).
— $1,650 in teeth floating. "It's safe to assume these horses have not had their teeth floated for a long time," Cooper said. "Since anesthetic is involved, we'll wait until they are in better shape."
— $800 for gelding (neutering). There are two ungelded mares, Jazz and Domino. They will be gelded when healthy.
— $390 for a farrier. Horses should get their feet trimmed every six to eight weeks.
— $1,600 for a veterinarian. "Our estimate of our vet bill to date is $800," Cooper said. "We expect that to increase significantly."
At the end of 90 days, "we can evaluate them to see how they behave when they are feeling good ... and evaluate the older horses to see if they have experience as riding horses."
At that time, around mid-April, they might be adoptable.
But the horse rescue already has horses eligible for adoption, Thompson said.
"We have others who cannot be ridden who have been in our organization for years," Cooper said. "Some of those horses are the ones we hope to find foster homes for."