For 15 years, Denise Willis has answered her share of animal abuse or neglect cases.
But the one that kept her busy for hours Friday night into early Saturday morning is among the worst humane officer said she has seen.
“It was pretty severe,” Willis said of the conditions in which she and other Friendship Animal Protective League personnel found five horses at a Grafton Township farm.
Two of the horses showed evidence of serious malnourishment and other health problems.
One, a male thoroughbred, was 300 to 400 pounds underweight, said Willis, who received an anonymous tip Friday about the animals being kept at the property at 36350 state Route 303.
Willis and Alyssa Bring, an APL animal care supervisor, found a dead sheep and bags containing remains and bones of an unknown number of other animals.
“It looked like coyotes had dragged some of them off, as there were bones lying around,” Bring said.
Charges of animal cruelty and obstructing official business were lodged against Mahmoud Abukhalil, 41, and Richard Newton, 49, by Lorain County sheriff’s deputies.
Abukhalil told deputies he was the homeowner, while Newton said he was responsible for caring for the animals.
When asked what explanation was given for the condition the horses were found in, officials said they were told conflicting stories.
“We were first told the owner of the animals had been out of the country for some time, but we were later told he was in a car accident and had not been seen in a week,” Willis said.
“Anybody who was there had to see this, and know what shape these animals were in,” Willis said. “How could they not have called for help?”
The incident is the second case in recent years of allegations of animal cruelty involving a group of horses. Last year, a Guilford Township woman was fined $250 and placed on five years probation after pleading guilty to neglecting more than two dozen horses and donkeys.
Tori Wilfred, 43, of 3835 Blake Road, was charged after the Medina County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals executed a search warrant April 11, 2013 at her 6.8-acre property, where about 30 horses were found.
Animal welfare groups recommend properties should have between one and two acres per horse.
Wadsworth Municipal Judge Stephen B. McIlvaine suspended Wilfred’s two 30-day jail sentences but barred her from having any horses.
Medina SPCA Executive Director Stephanie Moore said the animals were to be sold or put up for adoption.
In the Grafton Township case, Bring said it will take up to a year for the severely malnourished male horse to recover, assuming he is able to make it through the coming crucial days and weeks.
“They were pretty emaciated,” Bring said.
Bring estimated the male horse is 8 to 10 years old, and is 300 to 400 pounds under the expected weight of 1,200 to 1,300 pounds — as was evidenced by his clearly defined rib cage.
Because thoroughbreds tend to have a faster metabolism and be more high-strung than other breeds, he likely lost weight faster, Bring said.
“He has a problem with some bad teeth, but that won’t be addressed until he gains back a lot of weight,” Bring said.
A female brown-and-white paint believed to be 11 to 13 years old also was found in poor health, although that animal was heavier.
“There’s no way to tell how long they were there like that,” Willis said.
“These animals have no voice,” said Bring, who owns horses herself. “They can’t tell you when they’re hungry. They just look at you.”
“This never gets easier,” Willis said.
Willis described a barn on the grounds as being in “deplorable condition.”
“It was flooded, muddy, wet and stinky,” Willis said, and contained at least three feet of animal feces in individual stalls.
The horses were found outside a barn when rescue personnel arrived, Willis said.
“They were probably outside because no one wanted to clean it,” Willis said.
Three other horses were rescued from the site. Of those, two were said to be in fairly good shape.
“We were told they had just been put on the property,” Willis said.
A veterinarian from Wellington Veterinary Clinic inspected the animals after they were turned over to an area horse owner for care.
Willis and Bring both said they were hopeful of the animals’ recovery, but acknowledged the horses’ health will be touch-and-go for some time.
Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.