115 horses which had been living with no food and water on a Viola farm are now in a much better place.
"The horses are adjusting well to the shelter. They are fed and calmed down and starting to rehab," said Kyle Held, Midwest Director of the ASPCA Anti-Cruelty Response Group.
The emergency shelter for the horses is the Mountain Home Live Stock Auction, a facility which has been closed for at least five years. It offers a large barn area and outside pens to hold the horses removed from Rodney Kankey's farm on Highway 62/412 between Viola and Salem.
The horses were relocated on Tuesday, Dec. 14, eight to ten at a time, by horse trailers brought to Fulton County by ASPCA volunteers from Missouri and the Arkansas Humane Society.
The process of removing the horses was hard work on a cold day for the volunteers, but even more traumatic to the horses as many were malnourished, upset and sick.
"These are the worst of the worst," said shelter manager Bonnie Dean, of the ASPCA, as she gave a tour to The News on Friday, Dec. 17. The horses housed in a row of pens along a barn wall are the thinnest, have injuries or are the most contagious.
Dean pointed out an older, brown horse covered with a blanket. "He had an obvious shoulder injury and a severe ulcer in one eye. We feared he might have to be put down but a doctor has determined that it is an old fracture which didn't heal properly. He believes, with good food and attention, he will be okay," explained Dean.
Another pen contained five "mini-horses," including one which had worn a halter so long it grew into its face. It also has an eye injury that developed into a draining ulcer because of a lack of treatment.
The horses are being tended to by about 15 employees and specially trained volunteers, the Red Star Emergency Service Team, from the American Humane Association and employees and volunteers from the ASPCA (the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and the Humane Society.
Joanne Smith has traveled from Pennsylvania to spread hay, clean stalls and do what is necessary to make the horses comfortable.
Gina Berg, who is also pitching in, is from Denver.
They and others are staying in small sleeping quarters in a semi-trailer the American Humane Association has equipped for large cruelty cases and other emergency situations where animals need help.
"Horse people from around here are offering to come out and help, but we can't have local volunteers come in right now," said Held. "The horses have a contagious disease (the strangles virus) and people who own horses could take it home with them. In addition, the horses are evidence in a legal case so, for now, we need to have only ASPCA, Humane Society and Humane Association personnel in the shelter."
Arkansas Livestock and Poultry has placed a 14 day quarantine on the horses and doctors say none of the horses can leave the barn for 30 days, the amount of time it will take to bring the strangles outbreak under control.
"We had to put two horses down after we moved them. They were too far gone with the disease," said Held. "The day we went to the farm we found two dead horses and two dead cows."
"Except for the two we had to put down, it appears most are in pretty good shape and getting stronger," added shelter manager Dean.
Dean expressed confidence that most of the horses will respond to the proper food, water and treatment they are getting and will be able to be adopted out.
"The majority of these horses are under seven years old and have plenty of good years left," said Dean.
Pointing out an Appaloosa that is 20 or 25 years old, Dean said even it would make a good pet for someone with plenty of land and a love of horses.
On Dec. 17, 13 inmates of the Baxter County Detention Center worked to clear outside pens which had grown up in weeds and vines in the years since the livestock auction closed.
"That is going to be a big help," said Dean. "We will be able to move horses from the barn to the larger turnout pens, so they can have more room and enjoy being outside when the weather permits."
How to find new homes for the horses is still a matter being discussed by the animal protection organizations.
"In cases where we seize large groups of dogs and cats, we often have an adoption event in the community," said Held. "We may have a local adoption event for the horses, although not everyone can take a horse, so we're not sure how successful that would be."
Horses that are not adopted locally will be farmed out to horse rescue agencies around the country and they will help find homes for the horses.
The animal protection agencies hope to meet next week with Rodney Kankey, the owner of the horses, to see whether he is willing to voluntarily surrender them. If he is not, the organizations will ask a judge to require Kankey to post a bond to cover the cost of their care.
Criminal charges relating to animal neglect or cruelty may still be filed and the organizations plan to seek restitution from Kankey and others responsible for the horses.
Kankey was unable to care for the horses after he was arrested on Nov. 25 for threatening behavior toward his wife, her family and others in the Viola area.
However, Fulton County Sheriff Walter Dillinger and Arkansas Humane Society director Desiree Bender have indicated they have received complaints, for months, regarding alleged mistreatment of horses on the Kankey property.
Last May, Bender toured Kankey's farm and made recommendations to him, but claims he made threats toward her rather than cooperate.
It is costing about $1,000 a day to care for the horses plus expenses to house and feed shelter workers. So far, the ASPCA, Humane Society and Humane Association national offices are bearing that cost.
Kankey was released from the Fulton County Jail on Dec. 15 after a judge lowered his bond from $250,000 to $100,000.
Contributions to help care for the horses can be made, in person, at the Mountain Home Livestock Auction or by going to the ASPCA, Humane Society, or the American Humane Association websites. For example, by going to ASPCA. org, supporters can click on the "donations" tab and specify that their donations go to the "Arkansas Horse Rescue."