A scrawny, starving foal tucked its nose under its mother’s bloated belly Friday afternoon, sniffing for milk that isn’t there.
The mother, a black mare with protruding ribs, is likely pregnant with another foal she’s too unhealthy to birth, veterinarian Doug Honken said.
“That’s the epitome of innocence,” Honken said of the young horse.
The two horses are among 11 brought to Ponti Veterinary Hospital in Otis Orchards in critical condition, out of a total of 63 seized from an Airway Heights ranch Friday morning. It’s the largest seizure of horses ever conducted by the Spokane Regional Animal Protection Service, Director Nancy Hill said.
The property owner, Janice Long, likely faces more animal cruelty charges on top of 21 felony counts stemming from the seizure of 26 starving horses from the same ranch on July 20. Each count has a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Long, also known as Janice Hickerson, had stopped appearing to her court dates on the July charges. Authorities don’t know where she is, and there’s an active warrant for her arrest on charges of theft of livestock and first-degree animal cruelty.
It is unclear how Long obtained the 63 horses, as well as two starving dogs and a cat that were removed from the home, Hill said. Long was not at the ranch when officers executed a search warrant there.
“She has not followed through on her end of things,” Hill said.
In July, the removed horses all received a 1 or 2 on a 9-point scale indicating a horse’s health, meaning the horses were emaciated and their ribs, spines and hip bones were clearly visible.
But the horses seized Friday seem to be even worse, Hill said: “There was no water on the property, and the food there was moldy.”
Long has an extensive history of animal cruelty charges in Washington and Idaho, according to SCRAPS. In 2004, she was charged with 12 counts of second-degree animal cruelty in Pacific County. In 2007, she was charged with permitting animals to go without care in Kootenai County.
Resource officers stayed at the ranch for several hours Friday transporting the horses to the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center.
Honken doesn’t know yet if he’ll have to euthanize any of the horses in his care, or what the future holds for them.
A gelding with a lame leg stood unsteadily. On another horse, Honken pointed to an abscess that will have to be drained and cleaned. Another has a gash across her face, covered in dirt and dried blood.
Honken has seen horrifying cases in 24 years as a veterinarian, he said. This is one of the worst.
“There’s no excuse for this,” he said.