Five severely malnourished horses that were brought in by the San Diego County Humane Society Tuesday evening are eating their way back to health, according to spokesman Larry Boersma.
"Today was the first day that they haven't spent 24 hours out of 24 with their muzzles in the feed bag," said Boersma Friday. "When they came in, they were hardly able to move; today I even saw one break into a little trot."
The horses, which were confiscated from a pasture on Willow Glen Drive near El Cajon by the Humane Society after it received a report from a neighbor, were described by one Humane Society official as the worst case of equine abuse he had ever seen. Ownership of the horses was signed over to the Humane Society by their former owner, Robert Fortenberry, on Wednesday afternoon, Boersma said.
Response to the plight of the horses--whose condition was widely publicized by local media--has been overwhelming, with $1,670 in contributions made to the Humane Society in the last two days. These donations will be more than enough to cover the expense of caring for the animals, which Boersma put at $1,000.
The five horses being held at the facility--including one mare, three colts and one filly--should return to complete health after having lost more than a third of their normal body weight and suffering from hair loss when they were brought in. Humane Society employees have also detected movements within the mare, who is in foal, indicating that she will go to term on the pregnancy.
Meanwhile, a private effort has been set up to care for the six animals owned by Fortenberry that were left behind due to lack of space at the Humane Society facilities. Morris Williams, owner of Ranch, Feed and Supply in Jamul, which has become an unofficial clearing house for those concerned for the horses, said Friday that he has received more than $300 in contributions since the story broke, with checks continuing to flow in. The money will be placed in a separate file exclusively for the horses' upkeep.
Williams said he supplied Fortenberry with feed for the animals until six months ago.
"He is real good people," Williams said. "Not the sort you'd suspect of animal abuse at all."
According to Williams, Fortenberry stopped feeding the horses after he lost his job as a carpenter. "He had tremendous financial difficulties. I think he tried to give the horses away or sell them, but at that point they were in such bad condition that he couldn't get rid of them," Williams said.
Fortenberry could not be reached for comment, but Boersma indicated that he had also told the Humane Society that financial problems had prevented him from caring for the animals properly.
The Humane Society will file criminal charges with the district attorney's office next week for five counts of animal cruelty, each of which carries penalty of up to six months in jail and/or $500 in fines.
"If only he had come to us early on this whole thing could have been avoided; we're perfectly willing to help people with temporary difficulties to feed their animals," Boersma said. "We don't want to take animals away; we just want them to be properly cared for."