On December 16th, members of the Ohio SPCA Response Team arrived onsite to assist Ross County Deputy Craig Montgomery in the investigation of a report of alleged animal cruelty involving three equines. It didn’t take long to determine that these horses were in serious trouble. I could see hip bones, ribs, and spines protruding. I was looking at bodies that were literally wasting away. Where was the muscle and fat? BUT… most shocking of all was the total body shivering. Two of the horses could not stop shaking. Their bodies were trembling all over from their chests to their legs. They had no water and no hay and this was not the first day without such basic needs. My heart broke. In all my years of rescue, I had never watched horses shiver and tremble so horribly. We quickly took some photographs and then threw two bales of hay into the pasture. It didn’t take long for the hay to start working its magic. You see, when animals eat hay, it’s like starting your car engine. Gradually, the heat from the engine becomes heat for the driver and passengers. Eating hay keeps an animal warm starting on the inside. We left and returned with a horse trailer. It was now evening and we were working in the dark. Two of the horses loaded quickly, but the third did not want to cooperate. We faced two options. We could leave him and return the next day or wait on our horse whisperer, Mandy Schrieber, to arrive. It was getting late and we were tired. However, the owners had been cited for animal cruelty and we didn’t want to leave this guy alone in the rain and cold. Mandy arrived and worked her magic and within 30 minutes the last horse was loaded. It was now after midnight and the real nightmare was about to begin.
Rain had started to fall and so had the temperature. As we pulled out onto the narrow winding country road, the ice began to form. John Downs, our experienced hauler and rescuer, was at the wheel. That did little to lessen my fear. Every hill and curve meant the risk of sliding off the road or losing control of the horse trailer. For two and a half hours we traveled on icy roads at speeds of 5 to 20 miles and hour. Headlights shined on roads that were literally solid sheets of ice. All I could think of was the precious lives in tow depending on us for their safety. In my mind, I could see a truck and trailer overturned. At 3 p.m. we arrived at the equine hospital. After creating a straw walking path so rescuers and horses could enter the barn, all three horses were led to warm stalls with plenty of hay and fresh water. They were not shivering anymore! By 5 in the morning, all response team members were back in their homes exhausted but safe. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!
I have relived this night many times. Realizing that we cannot always predict weather or animal behavior, we remain flexible and determined. Rescue situations can change suddenly and we must still proceed. In this case, the horses had to be removed. They would never have survived another frigid night! I am so thankful to be a part of a team of rescuers that do not give up!