Friday, August 20, 2021

Seized horses recovering at MSSPA facilities in Windham

Since July, the Maine State Society for the Protection of 
Animals in Windham has been caring for 18 horses that
were seized from an owner in Springvale. The MSSPA 
aims to rehabilitate the horses, get them healthy and find
them new homes, COURTESY PHOTO
By Ed Pierce

The Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals is always prepared to handle emergency care situations for horses but nothing the nonprofit rescue organization has seen before could prepare them for what they’ve experienced this summer.

On July 14, Maine’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry's Animal Welfare Program seized 20 horses, 11 chickens, two pigs, six dogs, six cats, two geckos, three rats, and a bearded dragon from an owner in Springvale and at that point the MSSPA assumed care for the horses, many of whom were in desperate need of food, vaccines, and veterinary care.

According to Meris Bickford, the MSSPA’s chief executive officer, the 20 rescued horses joined 27 other equines at the facility on River Road in Windham, swelling its population to 47 in just one day.

“To the best of my memory it’s the largest equine seizure I can ever recall in Maine,” Bickford said. “We used a caravan of trucks and trailers and vehicles to bring them here.”

Almost immediately two of the suffering horses were determined to be beyond the scope of medical help and were euthanized. The remaining horses that were seized range in age from a month-old filly to in their 20s.

The rescued equines include a group of wild mustangs captured by the Bureau of Land Management agents out west and shipped to the farm in Springvale where the owner was struggling to care for them.

“These mustangs are a band of five,” Bickford said. “They have not been touched before by human beings. Some had lice, some had not had their hooves trimmed or had basic vaccinations.”        

Liam Hughes, Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry's Animal Welfare Program director, said that he’s pleased that organizations like the MSSPA exist to assist in helping these horses recover and find new homes.

"The animals are getting the medical care and attention that they need to thrive," Hughes said. "We are immensely grateful to all of the animal sheltering organizations, animal control officers, and volunteers who worked together on this important cause."

During a hearing in July, the owner of the seized horses acknowledged an inability to care for the animals and received a lifetime animal possession ban, Hughes said. The owner can ask the court to amend the ban in five years and no charges will be filed.

In a little more than month since the seized and suffering horses arrived at the MSSPA facility, many are improving significantly, Bickford said.

“Of the 18 that are left, many are making good progress,” she said. “Some are thin, but they are not malnourished. A couple are in decent condition.”

The MSSPA’s goal is to rehabilitate the horses and then find new homes for them. They receive the best possible veterinary and farrier care on site and some eligible horses receive professional training in groundwork, riding, and driving. If no suitable adoption is found, the horses may live out their natural lives at the farm.

“For some it will be a fairly short turnaround,” Bickford said. “One of the mustangs though we have not been able to have hands on yet because it is wild.” 

Bickford said that MSSPA prepares, plans, and budgets each year to assist up to 100 rescue horses at one time but acknowledges that a large group like the one arriving this summer from the seizure does indeed put a strain on some areas associated with their care.

“It means more veterinarian resources, more feed and that our budget expenses have doubled,” she said. 

She said the MSSPA is thankful that many people have called or emailed them asking how they can help or be of assistance following the seizure, even though the facility remains closed to the public because of continuing COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

“We’ve had a tremendous outpouring of interest in these animals and had all manners and offers of in-kind assistance,” Bickford said. “The best way someone can help us is by making a donation at and to also vigorously report animal abuse to the authorities when they see it. <

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