More than a dozen horses, in danger of wasting away at a ranch west of Spokane when discovered by authorities in July, munched on alfalfa hay Thursday afternoon, occasionally lifting their noses to sneeze from the dust.
“She’s filling out quite nicely,” said Pete Jagoda, pointing to the barely visible hip bones of a brown-and-white spotted mare attacking a stack of hay with gusto.
Along with his wife, Kit, and several volunteers, Jagoda has been caring for the 14 horses delivered to River’s Wish Animal Sanctuary northwest of Spokane following their rescue this summer. The Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service is now accepting applications from the public to adopt the horses, deemed healthy for transportation by vets.
“They’ve come a long way,” said Nicole Montano, SCRAPS field operations manager, who was present when the horses were retrieved July 20. Court records indicate the horses seized all scored either a 1 or a 2 on a 9-point scale indicating the degree of malnutrition. At that level, horses experience physical pain due to starvation, and vertebrae, ribs and hip bones are clearly visible. One mare was missing an eye.
Bite marks were also present on the horses’ flanks, indicating they had fought over a scarce supply of food, according to court records. A water trough in a pen where foals were kept was too high for the horses to reach; one subsequently died and was left in the stable with five other living horses.
Social interaction has calmed the nerves of the horses, Jagoda said. They start – but don’t flee – when people approach. The favorite among the workers is a black colt they’ve taken to calling Moose.
“He’s got stellar behavior and disposition,” Montano said. Once you start scratching Moose’s neck, it’s tough to get away without him following you, Jagoda added.
The horses’ former owner, Janice Long, faces multiple counts of animal cruelty and confining an animal in an unsafe manner. Long, 48, has previously been convicted of 14 criminal misdemeanors tied to the mistreatment of animals since 1990, according to court files. A subsequent search of Long’s property in August revealed 20 to 30 horses remained on the property, and the court has ordered that she not own animals prior to a scheduled court date next month.
A neighbor told police Long meant well but overextended herself by owning more horses than she could support.
The horses, which include many breeds that are hard to specify because the parents remain unknown, have received clean bills of health from vets, Montano said. They’ve been inspected by horse trainers and their hooves have been clipped. They’ve also received treatments for worms, though they will need vaccines, Montano said.
“Now we’re at a point where they just need a good home,” she said.
For Jagoda, who’s been speaking to the horses in soothing tones and nursing them back to health for four to five hours a day, the separation will be difficult.
The horses develop a personality, he said, and you build a relationship that justifies the 400 to 500 pounds of hay they’ve eaten daily since arriving. Neighbors have expressed some interest in a few of the horses, but Jagoda anticipates many of them will be making their way to homes elsewhere throughout the area.
“It’s tempting, when you spend time with them, you want to keep them all,” Jagoda said.