WHITLEY COUNTY, Ind. (WPTA21) - A Whitley County husband and wife face criminal charges after authorities say malnourished horses were seized from their property.
A total of 10 horses previously owned by John and Deborah Thomas of South Whitley are now being cared for in Allen County by a horse rescue organization.
One other horse had to be euthanized.
Michelle Bobay and others connected to Shadarobah Horse Rescue are skilled at caring for abused and neglected animals.
The organization right now is dealing with one of its most challenging cases ever.
They showed us a Belgian draft horse being nursed back to health that normally weighs about 2,000 pounds, but now is about 1,200 pounds.
They attribute that to severe malnourishment.
When they found it on a property near South Whitley, Bobay says they thought it had grain stuck in its throat, but instead, they pulled out sticks, bark and other debris.
"Out of his esophagus and stomach, because that was what he was trying to eat to survive," Bobay said.
In late January, Whitley County health officials and police investigated horses owned by John and Deborah Thomas, documenting that the majority of 17 of the horses present were "emaciated".
They were turned over to Shadarobah Horse Rescue, which is now feeding and caring for the horses on an Allen County farm.
It could take months before they are deemed healthy.
The investigation discovered horses that were severely malnourished and dehydrated, and were roaming in a lot covered in trash and debris that was deemed unsafe.
In court charging documents, a health official made the observation that "the life and well-being of these horses is in jeopardy."
Whitley County prosecutor D.J. Sigler has charged John and Deborah Thomas with misdemeanor abandonment or neglect of a vertebrate animal.
"Our immediate concern was making sure the animals themselves were going to survive, first of all, and ultimately be somewhere where they can flourish," Sigler said.
Bobay thinks the situation warrants more than a misdemeanor charge.
"I can't blame anyone for that other than the law, I mean the laws are just not strong enough," Bobay said.
For more information about Shadarobah Horse Rescue, click here for their website.