At first there was only darkness and the putrid stench of death.
Then the flashlights were switched on and narrow beams of light revealed the dead, near-dead and terrified horses of Peaceable Farms, in a scene described in media reports as “the most horrendous” scene of animal abuse.
“We’d shine a flashlight in a stall and there’d be walking skeletons staring back,” says Miah Proulx of Hope’s Legacy Equine Rescue. “There was one horse” who was terrified “and he was lunging over the stall walls trying to bite people as we walked horses onto a big, open-air stock trailer.
“But as soon as (the rearing horse) saw the trailer and realized he was leaving, his whole personality changed. He was such a cool guy and he walked right on. Unfortunately, he was beyond hope, and he had to be euthanized after his rescue. He was a 17-hand Saddlebred named Carl Meyers.”
Proulx worked alongside several other horse rescues, whose operators lined up with trucks and trailers to remove approximately 80 horses during a raid on the 501 c 3 nonprofit horse charity led by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office Oct. 20. The owner of the farm, Anne Goland, has been charged with 27 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty, according to the Washington Post, and was being held without bail.
As prosecutors prepared their case, five rescue organizations worked tirelessly to triage endangered animals, focusing their attention on the living, doing their best to ignore the carnage. Rescue organizations were: Hope’s Legacy Equine Rescue, Central Virginia Horse Rescue, Traveller’s Rest Equine Elders Sanctuary, New Beginnings Horse Rescue, and Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue.
There was no time to give in to tears. Horses were in immediate danger of dying; one died in the night, and another after he was rescued, Proulx says.
“When I got to the property the bodies of dead horses were being loaded into a dumpster,” Proulx says. “One Thoroughbred died on his own. We don’t know who he was. He had an illegible tattoo, and was estimated to be in his late 20s. His body condition was appalling, and he had a heart murmur.”
She adds, “Horses were tagged with red, yellow or green tags, depending on how critical they were. The red-tagged ones had the most critical need to get off the property because there was a chance they wouldn’t survive the night. We were able to take seven red-tagged horses, but sadly there was one out in a field, and we couldn’t find him. He did wind up going down during the night, and he had to be euthanized the following morning.”
Working madly, wildly, but with fanatical purpose, Proulx took 29 horses.
Cindy Smith, of Central Virginia Horse Rescue, took 10 total equines, including mules, a Saddlebred, an Appaloosa, two Thoroughbreds, two miniature donkeys and two young mules.
The scene, she says, “Was like a bad circus.”
“We got the call on the 19th to be ready to move the next morning, because the sheriff and county attorney would be seizing the horses,” she says. “We were there by 10 the next morning (Oct. 20), and there were approximately seven other trailers on the scene at that time. Once the vets were all ready, and everything got moving, it was pretty organized.”
As the media filmed and reported the sting, trailers and trucks, pulled up, loaded horses and other animals, and pulled away. And in this way, nearly 100 animals were loaded up and transported to safety, Smith says.
“Was I shocked at the number of dead and starving animals? Yes. It’s almost like having PTSD; you go in and it affects you on such a visceral level,” Smith says. “But in rescue, we’re also lucky, because we feel like we’re doing something.”
And as they placed their hands on the needy horses, many more hands across Virginia and other states dug deep to support their effort.
As if they were airdropping food to prisoners of war, people and organizations came out of the woodwork to send food, money, blankets and supplies.
“The community support has just been amazing,” Proulx says. “Donations, both financial, and with equipment have been so tremendous I’m literally swimming in horse blankets. We’ve had volunteers come out to clean stalls, brush manes and monitor water levels.”
Rachel Miller, an equine specialist for Southern States feed and gardening store, organized much of the outpouring.
“My manager and I wanted to make sure that when the horses were taken off the farm, that they had all the alfalfa and Triple Crown Senior feed they needed. We just wanted to make sure the charities weren’t overburdened,” Miller says. “So I put out a request on Facebook, and it reached over 13,000 people. We were completely unprepared for the number of people who stepped up to help.”
Though the list of donors is too long to mention every business and person who gave, Miller notes that Triple Crown Nutrition donated a half ton of alfalfa the first day, as did Stanley Hay Company. Southern States, as well as the Southern States corporate office, donated Triple Crown Senior feed as well.
“Our customers and others in the community purchased feed and 74 bales of alfalfa hay. I’ve got customers who have donated round bales from their own supplies; one’s taking 11 round bales out to the charities, another took 50 round bales from their own storage to donate,” she says. “I even have a customer who has offered up to 50 bales, and to take them out, as needed, over the winter to support the horses.”
Donors have also purchased blankets, and Dover Saddlery stepped up to absorb shipping costs. Dover also donated blankets. Zoetis, an equine vaccine company, donated two cases of dewormer, and Farm Vet donated ample supplies of the costly drug, UlcerGard.
“We’ve had so many companies step up to help. The owner of Mad Tack, a small tack shop and local business, spent one day with his truck and trailer helping to pull those horses out of there, and he used his shop as a donation/storage spot,” she says. “This has hit everyone in our community. We’ve all seen rescue animals before, but the sheer numbers of thin, starving horses in horse country, that’s what I think we’re reacting to.
“This is an area where we pride ourselves on our horses,” Miller adds. “And the fact that this was a facility that was set up as a rescue, that’s what really got a lot of people. It was a place where horses were supposed to be getting helped. Instead they were dying.”
To read more on the charges against the property owner, please visit this link: http://www.nbc29.com/story/30349381/update-peaceable-farm-owner-charged-with-animal-cruelty