Two more neglected horses are receiving emergency care after being taken away from property owned by a West Marin breeder, bringing to four the number of confiscated horses, according to the Marin Humane Society.
Animal services officers found unsafe living conditions for horses at the breeder's ranch on Dec. 27 and took in two horses, then confiscated two more over on Jan. 4, said Carrie Harrington, spokeswoman for the Marin Humane Society.
Harrington confirmed that the ranch being investigated is Gray Fox Farms, a remote hilltop property with a Petaluma address. It is in unincorporated Chileno Valley area northwest of Novato and west of downtown Petaluma.
The society's animal services division officers found "serious neglect, injuries, unsafe and inhumane living conditions for horses living on the property" during a visit on Dec. 27. One injured stallion was seized and was under 24-hour medical observation at an offsite location, Harrington said. Another impounded horse, a malnourished mare, is also receiving rehabilitative care, she said.
As of last week, the animal control officers were monitoring more than two dozen horses on the property ranging from foals, pregnant mares and stallions. Last weekend, two mares were taken from the property to an off-site rehabilitation center because they were "thin and suffering from neglect," Harrington said.
The stallion taken away on Dec. 27 had undisclosed injuries in addition to signs of neglect she said.
Several tips from the public have come in about the case, Harrington said. "Any sort of information we've heard has reinforced what our investigators have found," she said.
On a website called the Chronicle of the Horse, Megan Brincks wrote that Gray Fox Farm is run by Jill Burnell, according to her attorney, Margaret Weems. Burnell, with her husband, Alex, has run the breeding business for the past few months and ships semen to clients.
The Burnells will file a request in court for the return of the horses and ask for an injunction prohibiting the Marin Humane Society from "harassing" the Burnells, Weems told Brincks.
Bob Dougherty of Nicasio, who has been breeding horses for more than 50 years, said he had not heard any details from this neglect case but said more and more breeders are struggling in this economy.
"Usually things like this happen because they're out of money," said Dougherty, former president of the Golden Gate Arabian Horse Association. "It's a worse situation up in Sonoma County than it is here (in Marin) as far as abandoned horses."
Dougherty said he heard a recent case of a veterinarian and his wife who took their horses out to Point Reyes for a ride and returned to their trailer to find that two other horses had been placed in the trailer, abandoned by the owners.
"The impression is that it happening more now," said. Dr. Michelle Beko, a veterinarian with the Sonoma County Horse Council. "Certainly there are more people having trouble trying to feed their horses or trying to find them a new home."
Donations are being sought to cover expenses for medical treatment. People with knowledge of horse care can volunteer to assist in the care of the malnourished horses, the society said.
Also, Leg-Up Equestrian Assistance is operating an online auction that features the stallions from other famous breeders. Bidding is open and people can make monetary donations on the site that will aid the Marin Humane Society's efforts.
Anyone with information about horse neglect, including this case, is encouraged to contact investigators at 415-506-6209.