Farm, Sykesville jail give horses a second chance
05/21/2010
Carroll County Times

WOODBINE - Smiles lit up on the faces of staff and volunteers at Days End Farm Horse Rescue, Inc. when a pickup towing a wagon of 100 bales of hay started backing into the farm's hay barn.

Even better, six inmates from the Central Maryland Correctional Facility in Sykesville came along with it to unload the hay, which was being donated to help the horse rescue meet the needs of 26 horses rescued from a Garrett mark vernarCounty farm May 13.

Those 26 horses, which range in age from six months old to more than 20 years old, were severely neglected and weeks to months away from dying of starvation, said Susan Mitchell, development director for Days End Farm.

They had been living in a 5-acre paddock, without food or water, among cows and bulls and surrounded by piles of dead animals, some partially buried so that limbs and bones were sticking out of the ground, Mitchell said.

Surrounded by these horrific conditions, the horses lived in a state of fear and in a survival mode, Mitchell said, until they were brought to Days End Farm last week. They now have access to fresh water, all the hay they can eat, and are slowly beginning to feel safe again. Some still nap just steps away from the hay supply, she said, not trusting that food will always be available.-

"Their bodies are telling them feed, feed, feed," Mitchell said.

The horse rescue now has 94 horses in their care, whereas the normal population is between 50 and 65 horses, Mitchell said. Because of the extra care these Garrett County horses are going to require, including round-the-clock monitoring and feedings, extensive veterinary and maintenance care, each horse will cost about $2,000 per month, Mitchell said.

Having the Division of Correction donate 220 bales of hay Thursday is a help, Mitchell said, but it will only last them about 20 days.-

What's more important is the relationship the donation has brought on, Mitchell said, and all the future ways- that the Division of Correction's Second Chances program can assist the farm.-

Mark Vernarelli, director of public information for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said the department started the Second Chances Farm at the Central Maryland Correctional Facility in Sykesville last year as a rescue operation for retired thoroughbred race horses.-

Six to eight inmates from the minimal security pre-release prison participate in the program, working with the horses and the farmland as a way to give back to the community, Vernarelli said.-

"It gives a second chance to both man and beast," Vernarelli said. "The beauty of this type of environment is they learn not only how to rebuild fences and barns, but how to be compassionate around huge animals that were facing an uncertain fate, basically."-

The Second Chances Farm has four horses, but they are hoping to host 15 or more. The horses they care for are provided by the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, Vernarelli said.

Seeing the media reports of the desperate conditions of the Garrett County rescued horses, leaders of the Division of Correction program wanted to help, and for now, that meant donating hay. But the two organizations are discussing future partnerships, he said, though what that would look like has yet to be determined.

Mitchell said the horses will soon start to receive grain in their diet, which will be an important part of putting on the hundreds of pounds the animals need to be considered healthy again. Mitchell pointed out a few of the horses in the most critical of condition to the inmates Thursday, showing how their visible spines, hip bones and ribs were a key to recognizing their starving conditions.

"You had a direct hand in these horses eating tomorrow, so thank you very much," Mitchell told the crew.

In addition to being severely underweight, the horses had patchy coats, skin funguses, dental problems and mouth abscesses, hooves that needed clipping and more, she said. A veterinarian inspected and documented the animals and their conditions as soon as they arrived at the farm, which will be used as evidence in an animal cruelty case against their owner.

Administering the care they need has to come slowly, Mitchell said, because too much change at once could put their systems into shock and even lead to death. The horses will probably remain in critical care for three months, she said, and take about a year until they look and feel like healthy horses again.

One inmate asked if the horses would ever be able to be adopted by someone else. Mitchell explained the thorough screening process the rescue uses for all of its adoptions to find the right owner for each horse and to guarantee that it will be cared for in a proper way once leaving the rescue farm.

"These guys have been through enough, they don't need to fall into the wrong hands again," she said.