The Humane Society and the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) have taken drastic action over the past week to save more than 100 hungry, diseased and neglected horses on a Viola farm.
On Wednesday, Dec. 8, the two national animal protection agencies worked with the Fulton County Sheriff's Department to obtain a court order allowing them to enter Rodney Kankey's farm, to investigate a possible case of animal cruelty. They were also given the authority to care for the horses which, apparently, had not been properly fed and watered since at least Nov. 25.
"We have counted 117 live horses on the property," said Kyle Held, Midwest Director of the ASPCA Anti-Cruelty Group. "All of them are in need of food and water and we have identified many who are sick."
Thursday, Nov. 9, The News was present as a truckload of hay and bags of high protein feed were delivered to the farm.
The horses, which were trying to graze on a bare, dirt barnyard lot, quickly headed to a fence line where hay was being placed for them.
"This property will now be secured by law enforcement 24 hours a day," said Bender. "We are working to evaluate the condition of all of the horses and gather evidence regarding the conditions they are living in."
The neglected horses were discovered last week when Fulton County Deputy Lance Gray was called about a horse running loose on Highway 62/412, near Viola.
Gray led the horse back to the Kankey property and soon discovered a dead horse and a large number of horses in the barnlot which did not appear to have food or water.
Gray made several contacts, which resulted in the anti-cruelty groups getting involved.
The farm where Rodney and Terry Kankey live has been vacant since Thanksgiving Day, when Rodney Kankey was arrested for allegedly pulling a gun on a Viola man and threatening harm to his wife, Terry, her family members and others. Kankey has a history of threatening behavior against others, including an arrest for threatening two Sharp
County Sheriff's Deputies in an incident in 2007.
On Monday, Dec. 6, at a hearing at which Terry Kankey and another woman sought protective orders against Kankey, Kankey asked to be released from jail because his elderly parents were having to tend to "livestock." Kankey made no mention that more than 100 horses on his property were in peril.
Kankey had been confined to the Fulton County Jail since his arrest after being unable to post a $250,000 bond. Kankey was released on Monday, Dec. 13, after the bond was lowered to $100,000.
Held, whose ASPCA office is in Jackson, Mo., assembled a team of volunteers from Missouri to bring horse trailers to Fulton County to help relocate the horses on Tuesday, Dec. 14. The horses were transported, eight to ten at a time, to the Mountain Home Livestock Auction, a vacant facility where the animals can be housed and treated without fear they will spead disease to other horses in the community. Before being loaded, the horses were numbered and "mug shots" were taken to provide a record of exactly what horses the animal protection agencies are responsible for.
Once relocated, work will begin to get treatment for the sick animals.
Horses who are obviously sick were separated last week from the herd and placed in a barn and corral area on the Kankey farm.
"So far, we have spent $3,000 on hay and feed," said Bender, who updated The News on Monday, Dec. 13. "Since the horses have been getting proper food and water, they are feeling a lot better; they now have lights back in their eyes."
The Humane Society has been gathering evidence that could be used against Rodney Kankey and others responsible for the horses.
Bender plans to meet with Kankey this week and ask him to voluntarily surrender the horses to the Humane Society and the ASPCA.
If he refuses, legal action will be taken to seek a judge's order that Kankey be responsible for the cost of the horses' care, an amount that would be about $1,000 a day.
The Humane Society is contacting a national network of horse rescue agencies. It is hoped those agencies will take the horses and find homes for them.
"This is not the first time the Humane Society has been involved with Mr. Kankey," said Bender. "People around here have long been concerned about the way horses are treated here. I came in May, because of complaints and made recommendations."
Rather than cooperate, Bender said, "he (Kankey) kind of threatened us."
It is unknown whether animal cruelty charges will be filed or who would be charged. Charges could range from misdemeanor to more serious felony animal cruelty charges. The animal protection agencies are expected to seek restitution for their expenses, as well.
The animal groups say Terry Kankey, who has moved from the home and filed for divorce, was not allowed on the property to care for the animals.
Rodney Kankey's parents, Bill and Charlotte Kankey, who live next door, had allowed two nearby residents access to provide some water and care, but they had few resources to work with.
Rodney Kankey has long made his living selling and trading horses. He also operates horse sale venues where he sells others' horses, serving as an agent and collecting commissions and often selling unwanted horses designated for slaughter.
The main illness horses on the Kankey farm appear to have is strangles, a form of horse distemper.
Held said he once handled a case where the ASPCA had to deal with 150 neglected horses but cases, like the one on the Kankey farm involving more than 100 animals, are rare.
Bender says residents of Viola and the surrounding area volunteered to care for the horses or help relocate them.
"People have been very generous," said Bender. "We had arranged for volunteers to transport the horses early on, but will need help, especially financial contributions, as we continue to deal with the cost of caring for the horses until homes can be found for them."
The case has already generated widespread news media interest. The Batesville Guard and Baxter Bulletin newspapers, KAIT Television in Jonesboro and KY3 Television in Springfield are among media outlets who have reported on the efforts to save the horses.