By Sondra Murphy
After acquiring 14 horses in late September from a Lockwood Valley ranch, trepidation over the safety of the remainder of the animals compelled officials to return with a search warrant Wednesday.
“The Ventura County Humane Society was very concerned about the remaining horses,” said spokeswoman Kathleen Kaiser. “When the sheriffs arrived, they found an additional 38 neglected horses, as well as carcasses of dead horses in the nearby forest.” Of the original 14, one mare has died.
According to Ventura County Sheriff’s Capt. Ross Bonfiglio, deputies served the search warrant as part of an ongoing investigation and made three arrests in a cruelty to animals case involving malnourished and emaciated horses on a 21-acre Lockwood Valley ranch.
The joint operation included the use of four veterinarians as well as members of the U.S. Forest Service, Ventura County Animal Regulation, the Ventura County Humane Society, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, Emergency Evacuation Rescue Team, and several volunteers.
During the search of Cochema Ranch, located in the 16,000 block of the Curtis Trail, deputies recovered evidence and arrested Ernie, Joan and Cecelia Bor. They were arrested on suspicion of numerous counts of felony cruelty to animals, according to Deputy Bill Hollowell of the Lockwood Valley Station and each has posted $10,000 bail. After an assessment of the animals, 38 more horses were deemed to need off-site care. Some were voluntarily relinquished by ranch owners and others were impounded by the Humane Society. The remaining 57 horses were left at the ranch and the area was designated as a temporary animal shelter with those horses held under the care of Ventura County Department of Animal Regulation until the ranch owners returned Thursday. According to director Kathy Jenks, the care of the remaining horses will be closely monitored.
Shelter officials estimated that it would take a minimum of $100,000 to bring the horses back to health. “We have 38 new horses on shelter grounds right now,” said director Jolene Hoffman at the Ojai shelter. “There are a lot of pregnant mares and we’ll have to put together more piping to secure them. We’ll also need horse shelters and funds to provide veterinary care and food.”
The time factor for recovery is a significant part of the cost. “This could be six to nine months of trying to get these horse back to health. The weight goes off fast, but you have to be careful about putting it back on to avoid colic,” said Hoffman. The shelter also must take care in how they supply the corrals, avoiding shavings or hay bedding usually provided. “When they’re starving, horses are going to eat anything they can get.” Hoffman said they also need manure scoopers known as “apple pickers,” large wheelbarrows and large water containers able to hold about 500 gallons.
Kaiser added that the Human Society property has the space to accommodate the horses, but pipe corral and supplies would be needed to tend to the animals. “We usually board horses, like in cases of fire, and take care of them until we can evacuate them out, but we’ve got to keep these now.”
The cost will create a burden on the Humane Society, which relies completely on public donations for the services it provides. “We really need the support of horse lovers and horse groups in the area to get their help,” said Kaiser. Due to the wild nature of the rescued horses, the shelter will not be able to use volunteers during the rehabilitation of the animals.
The horses had grown feral and proved hazardous to round up. “When you’re dealing with starving horses that have not had proper care, it becomes very dangerous,” said Hoffman. “All of a sudden, this head mare shifted and came so fast that a forestry officer was hit full on and she went down. All of us are absolutely devastated. She’s a great lady and we were standing right next to her when it happened. The Sheriff’s Department officers were incredible, the way they took care of her.”
Injured was Heather Campbell, Forest Service special agent, who was airlifted to Ventura County Medical Center. Campbell, who serves the Pacific Southwest Region and is assigned to Los Padres National Forest, was knocked to the ground and suffered a head injury during the incident. “She is in stable condition and is most likely going to be in the hospital for several days while being evaluated,” said Kathy Good, Forest Service public affairs officer. “Heather is a character and a lovely person.”
Despite Campbell’s injury and the sad state of the horses, Hoffman was pleased with the dedicated group effort of so many agencies in the rescue. “It was incredible working with such a great group,” said Hoffman. “(Ojai Police Chief) Chris Dunn was there too. We are very, very fortunate here in Ojai to work with him.”
For more information about assisting the Ventura County Humane Society with this horse rehabilitation effort, call the shelter at 646-6505.
By Sondra Murphy