One month after being relocated to a facility in Mountain Home, the horses are much healthier and happier, thanks to the intervention of two national animal protection agencies.
Desiree Bender, Director of the Humane Society's Arkansas office, sums it up this way: "The horses are doing well. They are eating well and gaining weight. Only about 12 are still on medication and none have active signs of strangles (a disease which had infected the herd)."
The Humane Society and the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) were contacted on Dec. 7, after Fulton County Deputy Lance Gray discovered horses on the Rodney Kankey farm appeared malnourished and had no food or fresh water.
The organizations were allowed on the farm through a Search and Seizure Order issued by District Judge Jim Short.
After obtaining emergency hay and high protein feed, work began to stabilize the horses, investigate the apparent case of animal cruelty and find a place where the horses could be sheltered and treated.
On Dec. 14, volunteers helped load and transport the horses to the Mountain Home Livestock Auction, a vacant facility with a roofed barn area and outdoor pens.
Two horses were found dead on Kankey's property, as a result of starvation, and two others were destroyed after being evaluated after the move.
Several other horses were found by Veterinarian James Snodgrass to be critically ill because of starvation, injuries and disease. All of the 114 horses relocated to Mountain Home were judged to be suffering from "cruel mistreatment," which included insufficient food and water, lack of shelter, and a lack of medical care.
In Mountain Home, the horses have received around the clock care from staff and volunteers of the Humane Society and the ASPCA, many of whom have traveled across the country to help. The horses are housed under roof at night but are turned out daily to outside pens for sunlight and exercise.
"Just receiving basic care, food, water and medicine, has made a dramatic difference in just a short period of time," said Kyle Held, the ASPCA's Midwest Director of Investi- gations and Response.
The spread of strangles, a virus with flu-like symptoms, has been stemmed by isolating the horses who were obviously sick. The diseased horses have received medication, when needed, and were monitored, as the ailment ran its course. No horses now show active signs of strangles, such as discharges from the nose and eyes.
"These horses were in bad shape, but most are putting on weight and are healthy," said Held. "I don't know of any horse that won't be able to adopt out."
The herd was ordered quarantined for 14 days by Arkansas Livestock and Poultry and veterinarians required the horses be held for 30 days because of the strangles outbreak.
Now that 30 days have passed, the horses will be examined again and restrictions will be lifted if there is no new sign of disease.
"The horses are still being held as evidence so, until a disposition hearing can be held in District Court, we cannot begin action to find homes for the horses," said Bender.
Rodney Kankey refused a request to sign ownership of the horses over to the animal protection organizations, eventhough the organizations offered not to seek restitution for their expenses if he did.
"So far, just at Mountain Home, we have spent more than $45,000 on horse care, feed, supplies and medical treatment," said Bender.
According to Bender, the court will be asked to order Kankey to post a monthly bond to pay for future care of the horses. Failure to post the bond each month, could result in forfeiture of the horses.
"We want to get the legal issue resolved as soon as possible," said Held. "Rescue groups are willing to help us find good homes for the horses and to take responsibility for older, special needs horses."
Despite the mounting costs, Held and Bender say their organizations will continue to run the shelter and care for the horses as long as it takes.
Held and shelter manager Bonnie Dean both live in Missouri, but have been spending most of their time in Mountain Home, as has Bender, who lives in Conway.
After a month, Held says a system is in place to smoothly run the shelter. Horses are usually led to turnout pens while their barn pens are cleaned. Inmates from the Baxter County Detention Center and volunteers who are performing court ordered community service have helped ease the work load.
The biggest change at the shelter appears to be the affection workers have developed for the horses. The once nameless horses, most of which were destined for slaughter houses, are now known was "Little Wayne," "Velcro," "Zeus" and other pet names.
Workers have also learned the horses' likes and dislikes.
"These two have bonded and really get worked up if they are split up," said Held, pointing to two horses standing together.
Held named one horse "Velcro" because it loves people and immediately attaches itself to any human that comes close.
A young mule and an aggressive stallion don't like people or other animals, so they are kept apart from others.
"One of the most fun things is to lead a horse to an outside pen and undo the lead rope," said Held. "They buck, they kick, they fall down and roll around. They love going out and getting some exercise."
The staff members and volunteers, who left their homes to spend their days cleaning stalls and waiting on horses, clearly love their jobs and 114 horses, who lived for weeks without a future, are clearly responding to the attention.