The sheriff's department obtained a search warrant for the property.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
CANFIELD -- Sixteen malnourished horses a veterinarian says lived in unsafe and squalid conditions were removed from a boarding stable at 5156 S. Raccoon Road and placed in foster care.
"I couldn't get over the condition of the stalls, how filthy and cluttered with nails poking out. I couldn't get over how deep the manure was -- 12 to 15 inches deep in some stalls," Dr. Suzanne Wilcox, a Hubbard veterinarian, said Friday. "The water buckets had scum in them, like pond scum."
Wilcox said she assessed every one of the 30 horses in the barn Thursday. She explained that property owner Thomas Skelton owns horses and also boards horses on his property.
Sgt. Lenny Sliwinski of the Mahoning County Sheriff's Department said a search warrant was obtained from Mahoning County Area Court in Canfield after the department received complaints about the horses on Skelton's property.
Sheriff's department personnel and organized volunteers moved the animals off the property, Wilcox said.
"Some of the horses were in real bad shape," the sergeant said. "It's hard to understand how they could do this to animals."
No arrests were made. Sliwinski said charges could be filed next week. He said photos were taken to show the assistant county prosecutor in Canfield.
The Vindicator made numerous attempts to contact Skelton for comment Friday.
Wilcox said she holds Skelton, who operates Wilmington Livestock Auction, to a higher standard because he's an equine professional. She said the business sells hay, and he should have brought some home for the hungry horses.
"He is not a new horse owner or some backyard owner or 4-H kid," Wilcox said.
Wilcox said the boarded horses that appeared in decent shape were apparently cared for by their owners. The horses that were removed, some boarded, some belonging to Skelton, were skinny and had shaggy coats and matted manes ("dreadlocks") from not being brushed, she said.
"I was truly overwhelmed by it, as a horse owner and a vet," Wilcox said. "One horse, barely a year old and skinny, has leg problems that could have been avoided with proper nutrition. Some of the older horses looked very bad. The majority of horses are not old, probably 3 or 4."
With winter coming on, the skinny horses would not have fared well if left in the barn, Wilcox said. She called sanitation in the place "unacceptable."
The 16 horses were taken to the Canfield Fairgrounds. The Canfield Fair board gave its permission to use fairgrounds facilities, Wilcox said.
In foster care
The volunteers and sheriff's personnel then turned the animals over to people who will provide them foster care until a judge decides what to do, Wilcox said. To protect the horse rescuers, the veterinarian declined to name them.
Wilcox said she would have removed four more horses from the property, but the owners balked at the idea. She said she issued stern warnings to the owners about care and feeding of the animals and told them humane agents will check on the horses.
"The ones that got out -- I hope they don't have to go back," Wilcox said of the rescued horses. "Again, I was overwhelmed and I'm not easily overwhelmed."
Sliwinski said Animal Charity on South Avenue sent its two humane agents to Skelton's property to assist Thursday.
Animal Charity said this week that it hired a second humane agent and both men took tests for certification, the results of which should be available in a month.