RODNEY L. SHERMAN
Five summary counts of cruelty to animals have been filed against a Clarion Township man in connection with an incident in which five horses were euthanized due to poor health.
Clarion County sheriff Rex Munsee filed the counts last week against Ralph E. Smail, 65, of Corsica.
Six horses on the farm were surrendered to an animal rescue out of Cochranton. Three additional horses remain on the farm. Those horses were checked by the veterinarian and determined to be in acceptable health.
The care and health of those horses will continue to be monitored by authorities.
Munsee said state law does not have a specific section for mistreatment of horses and misdemeanor charges can only be filed on alleged second offenses.
The Pennsylvania Crimes Code says conviction for the offense carries a fine of $50 to $750.
Munsee said he was alerted to the horses’ condition by a neighbor of Smail who showed him photographs of the horses. Munsee then contacted Smail.
Before contacting Smail, Munsee prepared a search warrant request for the property but did not have to serve the granted search warrant as Smail agreed to allow Munsee and humane officers to view the animals the next day, May 3.
According to the sheriff, a veterinarian visited the farm a few hours before the sheriff and humane officers arrived on May 3.
“The veterinarian made the decision five of the horses could not be saved and those five horses were put down before we arrived,” said Munsee.
Some of the remaining horses were found in slings hanging from the barn ceiling, he said.
Smail allegedly told Munsee the horses in the barn had not been outside for about three years and had not had their hooves trimmed for at least that amount of time.
As the horses’ hooves grew and took on odd shapes and excessive length, it became painful for the horses to stand and walk. Munsee said Smail told him he put the animals in the slings to keep them from being stuck on the floor of the barn unable to get up.
Smail allegedly told Munsee he (Smail) had been dealing with health matters with other family members and fell behind in the care of the horses.
Munsee said he conducted the investigation as an “on view” incident. In Pennsylvania, sixth-class county sheriffs do not have police investigative powers unless they view a possible crime being committed.
Smail’s cooperation also played a factor in the investigation, Munsee said.
Munsee said Clarion County Deputy Sheriff Alyssa Henry has experience with horses and with Smail’s agreement will help monitor the condition of the three horses remaining at the farm.
The surviving horses
Bev Dee, owner of Bright Futures Farm near Cochranton, has custody of the six surviving horses. The horses are being kept at another Clarion County farm. Munsee contacted Dee for her assistance.
“The owner of the horses voluntarily surrendered the horses to us,” said Dee. A neighbor made the Clarion County sheriff’s office aware of the situation.
“The owner had two choices. He could voluntarily surrender the horses to us or he would be served with a warrant allowing the animals to be seized, in which case, he would have faced more severe penalties,” she said.
Dee expressed frustration with Pennsylvania’s anti-animal cruelty laws.
“Something like this needs to be a felony,” said Dee. “If someone treated their kids this way people wouldn’t stand for it. At the most he faces a $750 maximum fine per horse.”
Meanwhile, the horses in the rescue’s care continue their road to recovery.
As of late last week, Dee said she believed she had found homes for two of the horses and possibly two more, but the horses’ health affect adoptions.
“Depending on how their hooves turn out, they might not ever be able to be ridden,” explained Dee. “That affects who might want to adopt them.”
Help is still needed for the horses’ care.
Those who can donate hay or de-wormer, can donate time to help care for the horses while they recover, or make a monetary donation to help with dental exams, and ongoing veterinary and farrier care, may contact Bright Future Farms at 238 Old Franklin Pike, Cochranton, 16314.
Donations can be made on their website at brightfuturesfarm.org.
Bright Futures Farm can also be found on Facebook. Donations are tax-deductible.