On December 9, members of the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response (FIR) Team were dispatched to assist in the care of more than 100 critically ill and neglected horses seized from a ranch in Fulton County, Arkansas. The equines were transported to a temporary shelter where they are now receiving the food, water and medical care they so desperately needed.
Kathryn Destreza, the ASPCA’s Southeast Regional Director, is currently on the ground in Fulton County with other ASPCA team members skilled in horse handling. "This is just one of the many horrific cases we respond to—and our main priority is always the wellbeing of the animals,” says Destreza. “Many of us will miss the holidays with our loved ones this year, but there is no doubt in any of our minds that this is where we belong—we owe these animals a second chance.”
The following entries are from a series of field reports from Arkansas, where the team rang in the new year.
Field Report: New Year’s Eve
It’s New Year’s Eve and the weather is very temperamental—we are on high alert for severe tornados, which have already claimed the lives of three people in nearby counties. Many of the horses sense the unsettling conditions and are reacting with increased anxiety. Because of the weather, we also experienced a record-breaking 45 degree temperature drop in a matter of hours, and many of the horses had to be blanketed. Despite the heavy rains and cold weather, our team remains in high spirits, spending extra time comforting the horses while we go about our routine of daily chores.
Our days are long, often more than 12 hours. Caring for more than 100 horses is time-consuming and the work is hard—mucking and stripping stalls, maintaining a strict feeding and watering schedule, and administrating medications all must be done multiple times each day. But without a doubt, we are all happy to be here.
By late afternoon, the worst of the storm had passed, the rains stopped and the atmosphere around the barn took on a festive nature. Carrots and other treats were handed out to the horses, and team members began to celebrate the dawn of a new year.
Field Report: New Year’s Day
We arrived on site to sunny skies. Though temperatures were crisp, it was the perfect day to let some of the horses out into the pastures. It was amazing to watch them gallop and buck—to know that despite all that they had endured their spirits were not broken.
The horses have been under our care for nearly three weeks now, and we already see a drastic improvement in their health. Their infections are clearing up, they are putting on weight and their personalities are beginning to shine through. As we celebrate the new year, we are thankful that we have been able to make such a life-changing difference for these animals.
The owner of more than 100 severely neglected horses was arrested on Thursday, December 30—a few weeks after the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response (FIR) team arrived in Fulton County, Arkansas, to rescue the starved equines.
Rodney Kankey, 50, was charged with 118 counts of animal cruelty, five of them felonies. The felonies each carry a penalty of up to six years in prison. Kankey, the owner of the Fulton County farm, purchased horses from auctions and then re-sold them to the public. The ASPCA became involved in the case after a seven-month cruelty investigation by the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office.
"We appreciate the diligence of the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office in pursuing this case and bringing appropriate charges against the owner of these horses,” says Kyle Held, Midwest Director of Field Investigations and Response. “Animal cruelty should not be tolerated in any community, and we’re pleased that Kankey was held accountable for blatantly neglecting his animals.”
When the FIR team arrived in Fulton County, they found dead equines and more than 100 horses suffering from obvious signs of neglect that included infections and untreated injuries. The FIR team members, along with ASPCA Volunteer Response Team members, have been working day and night—throughout the holiday season—to bring the horses urgently needed food, shelter and veterinary care, nursing them back to health.
“We want to thank the community for providing supplies to help us care for these horses over the past few weeks and especially during the holidays,” says Held, adding that most of the horses are responding well to veterinary care and are regaining strength every day. “The horses are still under quarantine and are not yet available for adoption, but we’re hoping once they become available, the community will open their arms and offer these beautiful animals permanent homes.”
Law enforcement officers have confirmed what we always knew: 78 percent say they see a clear link between animal abuse and other violent crimes. So would you believe that only 19 percent of law enforcement officers report that they’ve received training in handling crimes against animals, and that while nearly one-third of Americans say they’ve witnessed animal cruelty firsthand, police say they rarely see it? According to new ASPCA research, it’s true.
“These findings validate what we have long assumed—that there is a major need for training for officers charged with enforcing animal cruelty laws and investigating cruelty cases,” says Dr. Randall Lockwood, Senior Vice President of Forensic Sciences and Anti-Cruelty Projects for the ASPCA.
The nationwide research study found that the public and law enforcement both want to end animal abuse, but they lack the know-how to work together to stop it. Case in point: we learned that very few witnesses to animal cruelty call the police, and that while nearly all law enforcement officers feel they should play a role in enforcing animal cruelty law, only 41 percent say they know the relevant laws in their area and just 30 percent say they know the penalties.
By obtaining solid research on the problem, we’re a big step closer to solving it through education. The ASPCA is already on the case, boosting our efforts to end blood sports with a tool kit for law enforcement that will soon be released by the Department of Justice and by appointing Animal Fighting Expert Terry Mills to train and work with law enforcement on that important issue.
In the video below, Dr. Lockwood outlines some of the most important findings of the study and explains how the ASPCA will use them in the battle against animal cruelty.
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According to the Associated Press, approximately 1,200 dogs at a Kansas puppy mill were euthanized because of a distemper outbreak that was discovered when sick puppies from the mill reached pet stores in Wyoming. The ASPCA wasn’t involved in this tragic case, but we think it serves as a powerful reminder that it’s never a good idea to purchase animals from pet stores, which are often supplied by substandard commercial breeders.
Distemper is a complicated disease to manage in any population of animals because it has a long incubation period and long shedding period, and diagnosis can be tricky. It can take months to contain an outbreak, and affected animals may have complications later in life or not survive the disease. Proper vaccination can greatly reduce the risk of distemper.
Wyoming pet stores reported 24 cases of the highly contagious and lethal disease, all in dogs from one puppy mill in Oberlin, Kansas. The mill, Beaver Creek Kennels, was subsequently quarantined twice. Because he couldn’t sell any puppies during the quarantines, Beaver Creek Kennels owner Jeff Fortin ran out of money to care for the dogs. Authorities were unable to find shelters to take the dogs due to the distemper, so the Kansas Animal Health Department made the decision to euthanize all of them. The dogs were buried on farmland in Decatur County, Kansas.
Kansas law requires commercial breeders to provide their dogs with adequate veterinary care, but Fortin has a recorded history of failing to adequately treat animals with health problems—USDA inspectors have cited him for this as well as for failure to keep adequate records and for allowing trash, junk and discarded kennel materials near large dog enclosures. In spite of a host of violations stretching back three years, Fortin was allowed to remain in business and continue supplying puppies to pet stores.
The story doesn’t end here: if Fortin meets certain requirements, Kansas authorities will allow Beaver Creek Kennels to be back in business in six months.
To learn more about how you can help end practices like Fortin’s, please read our list of ways to Help Fight Puppy Mills.