Family charged with animal neglect ID'd after 9 horses found dead at Stouffville farm

Three people charged with animal cruelty offences after the carcasses of at least nine horses were dug from the ground of a farm in Whitchurch-Stouffville, Ont., have been identified by the property's owner and neighbours.

3 people were operating a horse breeding company out of the rural property

The OSPCA discovered 15 emaciated horses, including this one, at a Stouffville-Whitchurch, Ont., farm in early May. (Oscar Calvete)

The three people charged with animal cruelty offences after the carcasses of at least nine horses were dug from the ground of a farm in Whitchurch-Stouffville, Ont., have been identified by the property's owner and neighbours. 

David Small, his wife, Victoria, and their 32-year-old son, Jason, are accused of allowing an animal to be in distress, failing to provide adequate food and failing to provide care necessary for general welfare following an investigation by the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA). 

Jason Small, 32, and his parents, David and Victoria, were renting the farm for commercial reasons when at least 9 horses were discovered dead and 14 others emaciated. (Facebook)

The Small family was renting the farm, located about 50 kilometres northeast of Toronto, when the neglect occurred, according to its owner Michael Cheung. 

The family did not return voicemails left on their cell phones on Saturday. CBC Toronto tracked down one of the family members at a home a few doors down from Cheung's property, who declined to comment.

Cheung purchased the 10-acre farm and barnyard last July from two retired RCMP officers for $2.7 million. He started renting the property to Speedsport Stables — a thoroughbred horse breeding company owned by the Small family — two months later as an investment.  

"They wanted to breed horses," he said. "The arrangement was very simple." 

The company paid $5,500 per month to board horses in the 25-stall barnyard, said Cheung.

The Small family didn't live on-site. Instead, they rented a home just doors away from the farm.

"You rent a place to somebody and they show as professionals and you automatically assume they would take care of these [horses] because that's their business," said Cheung, also the director of finance at two car dealerships in the area. 

The carcasses of at least nine dead horses were discovered in mounds of dirt near the back of the property. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Meanwhile, Cheung renovated the bungalow near the front of the rural property and moved in early this year.

He claims he had no idea the scale of the problems until a neighbour told him in early April the horses hadn't been outside all winter. That's when he entered the large mustard-coloured barn where he saw the stalls filled with manure. The place reeked of urine and there was no fresh hay in sight, he recalled.  

Cheung started to have concerns in December when he says the company failed to pay their rent.

He claims they were four months behind on their payments and owed $22,000 when he evicted them in late April. He did this by posting "No Trespassing" signs and locking them out for two days, at the advice of police. During that time, Cheung says he paid people to feed the horses. 

Equine veterinarian Oscar Calvete was brought in by the OSCPA to assist with the inspection. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

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.

Fences at the farm were chewed by the horses, says Oscar Calvete, a sign that they were starving. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Oscar Calvete, an equine veterinarian brought in by the OSPCA, said it's the worst case of animal neglect he's seen during his 36-year career. 

"I was surprised when we found two, and then I was more surprised when they found another one in the trailer, and this is just horrendous. It's too much."

He says there is evidence 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.

"This is not normal," he said. "Horses don't eat wood."

When crews extracted the horses from the ground, Calvete says they saw "fresh blood and raw material" on the remains. The animals appear to have been buried relatively recently, he explained.

"They have used this as a burial ground," said Cheung of the property. 

The accused are scheduled to appear at a provincial court in Newmarket, Ont., on July 6. 

With files from Greg Ross, Muriel Draaisma