At least 9 horses found dead at rented farm where OSPCA laid animal cruelty charges
A little dog named Jax is being hailed as a hero for helping to make the grisly find
The carcasses of at least nine horses have been dug from the ground of farm in Whitchurch-Stouffville, Ont., a day after three people renting the property were charged with animal cruelty offences.
The grisly find comes weeks after 14 emaciated horses and a pony were discovered on the four-hectare property located near Highway 404 and Bloomington Road about 50 kilometres north of Toronto.
"This is quite horrifying. I want people to see what they have done," Cheung told CBC Toronto.
'We saw fresh blood'
Exactly who the horses belonged to and how all of them were brought to the property, Cheung says, he doesn't know. But equine veterinarian Oscar Calvete told CBC News, the animals appear to have been buried relatively recently.
"We saw fresh blood and raw material, you know, it's not just bones," said Calvete. "I would say a couple of months at the most, no longer than that."
Calvete says there is evidence that the horses weren't being properly cared for when they were alive and that they appear to have been eating at the fencing that was used to hold them in out of hunger.
"You can see all over the place that the fence has been chewed down and that they just didn't have any other choice, that they tried to survive on something."
The horses were found to be in "thin body condition, with ribs, hips and spine easily visible on many of the animals," the OSPCA said in a release Friday. Fourteen emaciated horses and a pony were taken off the farm and placed in new homes, spokesperson Melissa Kosowan said. One pig, four chickens and a dog were also found, said Cheung.
Three people, not named by the OSPCA, have been charged with allowing an animal to be in distress, failing to provide adequate food and failing to provide care necessary for general welfare. The trio is scheduled to appear in a Newmarket court on July.
The OSPCA says it doesn't name those charged unless they are convicted.
Renters claimed to be breeders, landlord says
A few months into their lease, Cheung says, the family was late with their rent. But he had no idea the scale of the problems on the property until one of his tenants told him in early April that the horses hadn't been out all winter.
"You rent a place to somebody, they show up as professionals, and you automatically assume that they would take care of these things because that's their business," he said.
The family Cheung claims was renting the property did not return voicemails left on their cell phones on Saturday. CBC Toronto spoke with one of the family members at a home a few doors down from Cheung's property, but the family member declined to comment on the situation.
A startling find
After he was alerted to the problem, Cheung says he decided to take a look at the barn for himself.
The horse stalls were filled with manure, reeking of urine and there was no fresh hay, he recalls.
"I've never owned any animals in my life. I don't know how to tell a healthy horse from an unhealthy horse," he told CBC Toronto. Nevertheless, he says, he decided to call the SPCA.
At the time, he says, the officials with the SPCA did not enter the barn, telling him they didn't have the authority to enter it because it was rented out.
In mid-April, Cheung says he called police to ask for advice. He says police told him to put up "No Trespassing" signs, which he did, locking the family out for two days. During that time, he says, the neighbours starting feeding the horses, sometimes coming up to 10 times a day.
But on Mother's Day, came a startling find.
'Suddenly, I see hair'
Neighbour Louise Leifer was walking her dog, Jax, near the property when suddenly he became fixated on a specific mound of dirt near the back of the property.
"I didn't know what he was doing, so I went over there to check. 'What are you doing, Jax?'"
She immediately phoned up Michael and a few others and started digging. Together, with Jax, they found four animals and immediately called the SPCA and police.
Leifer says her concern now is that the tenants could have more horses at other properties that could suffer the same fate.
Jax, meanwhile, is being lauded as a hero.
With files from Muriel Draaisma, Greg Ross, Shanifa Nasser