The average 1,000-pound horse eats a quarter to a half a bale of hay a day. Imagine taking on 41 horses, most malnourished, some pregnant, some near death with quite a few living with all manner of maladies. That is the challenge Essex County faced when the sheriff's office seized them from Shelly Wing last September in Essex.
County officials reached out to Crane Mountain Valley Horse Rescue in Westport to help with the seizure and ready them for adoption, not an easy task as the horses first had to be brought back to health, if possible. Many needed retraining. And finding a proper home for a horse is not as easy as say a cat or a dog, which doesn't require barns, fields and so much food. One horse soon died, 28 were housed at the Essex County Fairgrounds, and the balance spread among a few private facilities.
Remarkably, only three horses remain to be adopted, and, not surprising, funds still need to be raised to support their feeding, training and veterinarian costs as well cover the cost of their care. The court case with Wing is by no means resolved. Nor is this an isolated case. Across the country, many well-meaning people take on animal rescue, large animals or even exotic or endangered species and find that either they are not equipped for the challenge or their circumstances change. In addition, there are many examples of animal cruelty.
Rocky, a 7-year-old morgan gelding, with Nicky Frechette
The circumstances around this case remain in the courts to decide, but the rescue effort to date has been Herculean and is not over. Those sentiments were shared in a fundraiser and information session hosted by Terry Robards Wine & Spirits on Saranac Avenue on Friday, Jan. 31. Shocking were the before-and-after photos of the horses being cared for by veterinarian Diane Dodd, Crane Mountain, and others. Clearly their rescue came in time as few could have survived the harsh winter we have had thus far. Skin and bones would be an apt description for some when first discovered.
"When I first saw the horses, I felt sad," said Eddie Mrozik, the co-founder of Crane Mountain Valley Horse Rescue. "They were pitiful. I have been on a few seizures, and this one was pretty bad. They have now come a long, long way. When we arrived, there was no water and these horses were in bad shape. If we didn't take them out, 90 to 98 percent of those horses would be dead by now. We took some of the most fragile ones because if we didn't we didn't think they would make it. We literally had to put them on a 24-hour watch. The animal humane association accompanied us. They have been on a lot of seizures, too, and they said this was the worst that they have seen. I can't discuss the details and the scenarios that were in there, but it was pretty bad."
"The animals were in poor shape," said Bill Dodd. "They have now adopted out 37 of the horses. There are three stallions, which have been gelded, left. The fundraiser is to help support Crane Mountain and the trainers, and pay down the cost of the hay and other expenses still not covered. Crane Mountain has very stringent requirements for those who want to adopt the horses. People have to send photographs of their barn, have references from their veterinarian, and so on before they will allow a horse to be taken by their new owners. They have also waved their normal adoption fees."
"The day they first made the seizure, my wife, Diane, looked at the horses at the fairgrounds and the ones at Crane Mountain, and has been working 10 hours a day seven days a week for the first month or so. I don't think there has been anything like this in New York state before."
"I was asked by Dianne Dodd to come in and take a look at the horses about a month after the rescue and to determine what to do about these three stallions that she had concerns about," said horse trainer Nicky Frechette. "My first thought was they were not worth keeping. I was really doubtful because horses that skinny have no muscle and no chest. Their front legs were almost touching. It was very disconcerting to see these animals and how troubled they were. I wasn't quite sure what to do and we left there feeling very heavy hearted. About two months later, Diane called again and begged us to come back and help her with the then four remaining horses. Helene and I went back out there, decided to help, and started to work with the horses."
"A few days before the actual seizure, which was a two-day process, the county came to us and asked if we would rally some people to come to assist with the seizure," said Nancy Van Wie, co-founder of Crane Mountain. "We did not know how many horses would be there. We assembled a group of volunteers together with horse trailers and wranglers, and it turned out to be 41 horses. We don't have the capacity on our farm for 41 horses, and we already had 12 in our care. We took the most fragile cases, including a mare and her little foal. All the others went to the fairgrounds. Diane had arrived that day from a trip to Alaska and said that she was in with us shoulder to shoulder. That was the greatest gift that ever could have arrived. I don't think there has been a day since that we haven't spoken at least once."
"I went to Crane Mountain to see what I could do because I knew they were busy," said volunteer Melissa Eisinger. "I did a lot of mucking, filled water buckets, and that sort of thing. I tried to be supportive while they had their hands full over at the fairgrounds. I am very drawn to horses because they mean a lot to my kid. When my daughter was about 4, she started volunteering for Nancy and Eddie, riding with them, learning about how to care for horses, and learning about respect. What I learned from her made me want to help horses, too. She is now 17 and has a lifelong commitment to horses. She thinks about a horse has an individual soul, and that is something like her."
"Talking with Diane, I learned that there was a real need for help," said Julie Robards, who organized the fundraiser. "Green Goddess pitched in by providing food, and our distributors helped with the wine. We are grateful for all the people who came and who are donating to this cause."