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Jefferson Township equine rescue takes in 10 more horses

| Thursday, May 23, 2013, 10:52 a.m.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
A horse named Strider rests in a stall after being seized and placed at Equine Angels in Jefferson on Wednesday May 22, 2013.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Pam Vivirito rubs the head of a recently seized malnourished horse at Equine Angels in Jefferson on Wednesday, May 22, 2013.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Pam Vivirito leads a malnourished horse through the stalls at Equine Angels in Jefferson on Wednesday, May 22, 2013. The horse, not aquired from the most recent seizure, is one of many horses to find shelter at Equine Angels.

The stalls at Equine Angels Rescue in Jefferson Township already were full of rescued horses, but they made room for 10 more this week.

Pam Vivirito, founder of the 3-year-old horse rescue, said her organization took in the malnourished Missouri fox trotters late Tuesday after they were seized by state police.

New Castle-based state police Trooper Shawn E. King, who serves as an animal cruelty investigator, reported the horses were “found to be emaciated and living in poor conditions” on a property near Route 422 in Clearfield, Butler County.

“They were in need of veterinary care and proper nutrition,” King said.

Vivirito and veterinarian Dr. Brian Burks of Fox Run Equine Center in Washington Township said three of the horses are in especially poor shape because of botched castrations and resulting infections.

“They were not gelded by a licensed veterinarian,” Burks said.

He and Vivirito believe the owner hired someone from the Amish community to castrate the horses, a problem they have encountered before.

“These horses were not given anesthesia, no pain medicine, no antibiotics,” Burks said. “There were no instructions given for after-care. (The owner) had them turned out in the field because nobody told her differently. That's very wrong.”

“They basically were butchered,” Vivirito said.

She was particularly worried about a gelding named Strider, a black-and-white horse who laid weakly in his stall at one point Wednesday afternoon.

Burks said the infection at the site of the castration has spread into the horses' peritoneums, the lining of their abdominal cavities.

“Peritonitis can be fatal,” he said.

Burks said all 10 horses were underweight and had internal parasites; some also had lice or shaggy coats that Vivirito said is a sign of malnutrition.

Burks said most would score a 1 on the Henneke scale that evaluates the body condition of horses. The scale ranges from 1 to 9 with a 1 being seriously malnourished and a 9 being very overweight; a 5 would be ideal.

“Overall, they're pretty sick animals,” he said.

Burks and Vivirito are hopeful the other seven horses, which ranged in age from not quite 1 year to teenagers, will be able to recover. Vivirito said several, including Strider, are as much as 300 pounds underweight.

Many munched steadily on hay Wednesday afternoon and were uninterested when Vivirito tried to attract their attention.

Even though they now will be fed properly, Burks said the horses won't be out of the woods. The could suffer from refeeding syndrome, a metabolic condition underfed horses can develop. They also have no veterinary records for any of the horses, so Burks doesn't know what health problems could crop up.

Vivirito said Tuesday's additions bring the total number of horses in her care to about 50. She's had to set up temporary stalls and have some of her smaller horses share the 12-by-12 foot stalls to make room for everybody.

Equine Angels took in 18 other horses in the past few weeks, Vivirito said.

“There are no other rescues around here,” Vivirito said. “It never ends.”

She said the rescue would appreciate donations, as feed and board can cost more than $350 per horse per month, not including their vet care.

Eventually, the horses likely will be put up for adoption, but Vivirito said they can't be released until they are healthier and until any legal procedures with the owner are completed.

King said the investigation continues, and the Butler County District Attorney's office will determine whether charges will be filed. Because the owner hasn't been charged and could not be reached for comment, the Valley News Dispatch is not naming her.

In addition to Equine Angels, Burks said he also works with horse rescues in Westmoreland and Washington counties.

“Somebody's got to advocate for these guys,” Burks said. “People cannot be allowed to do this. They can't continue to be allowed to abuse animals.”

“The horses can't speak up,” Vivirito said. “They can't say, ‘I'm hurt. I'm starving.' We have to be their voice.”

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680

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