Horse death spurs cruelty investigation on Topside Road property

A horse that died hours after being found in a pasture off Topside Road Sunday is arousing concerns that its owner has starved it and several other surviving horses.

Robin Haynes of Alcoa said she saw the thin horse as she drove on Topside Road Saturday afternoon so she decided she would return Sunday morning and throw hay across the fence for the horses to eat.

“When I got there I saw one laying down. I walked to the fence and assumed she was dead because she was thin. I made noise with a limb, and she opened her eyes and moved her ears but couldn’t stand,” Haynes said.

Haynes called a friend connected to the horse rescue group Horse Haven and also contacted the veterinarian she uses for her own horses. The lessee of the property arrived and let the veterinarian on the property to check the horse.

According to a Blount County Sheriff’s Office incident report, the horse appeared in bad health, weak, thin and very malnourished. The lessee of the land, Gary Martin of Tipton Station Road, Knoxville, reported the horse wasn’t his, and he didn’t know whose it was.

There was no phone number listed on the Blount County Sheriff’s Office report for Martin but when a reporter called a phone listing for a Gary Martin at 815 Tipton Station Road, Knoxville, a woman answered and said it wasn’t the Martin residence.

The report stated that upon checking the horse, Dr. Monica Webb reported she felt she might be able to save it and had a horse trailer respond to take the horse off the property to Countryside Vet.

Steve Phipps with the Blount County Humane Society, Haynes and several other volunteers were on hand to help remove the animal. The horse was very weak and was unable to move without assistance from the individuals on the scene, the report stated.

Julie Nelson said 10 of the volunteers pulled the horse out of the trailer at the vet’s facility. “It was in that bad of shape. It was dead weight. It was a 2-year-old filly, and it probably should have weighed 700 pounds. It weighed 200,” she said. “We think it has been without food for weeks, if not months. When they opened that trailer, I cried. It was such a sad sight to see that thing. I don’t know how anyone could do that.”

According to the report, the animal died during the night Sunday. It was taken to the University of Tennessee Veterinarian Hospital for an ecropsy.

When interviewed about the situation, the volunteers involved were still upset Monday. In 35 years as a horse owner Robin Haynes said she had never seen anything as bad.

“Her blood work proved she was starving. Her body was metabolizing her muscle mass for survival,” she said.

Haynes and Nelson said they were concerned about the other horses on the property, and the report reflected that concern. “There are other horses on the property that the vet felt may be suffering from the lack of food being provided,” report written by deputy Sara Beal said.

Haynes said she would try to help as much as she can. “Somehow, I’ll continue to feed them as long as we can, but we need to get through the red tape and get them off there,” she said. “If something is not done in five to seven days, there will another dead one.”

Nelson said there are six other horses in the field. “Volunteers are going by and taking them hay, and we think they have access to the lake for water,” she said.

Horse Haven executive director Nina Margetson said her organization had received numerous complaints over the past month about these horses and Horse Haven was involved in an ongoing case with Blount County Humane Society.

“The case was still pending, and we were trying to get evidence to do something until this went down Sunday. Thankfully Robin contacted someone. We’re very, very thankful Blount County has people in their county willing to stand up and be heard for horses who can’t speak for themselves,” she said.

The ecropsy from UT should tell them a lot about the situation on the property with the horses. “We’re still in the process of building a case,” Margetson said. “We’ve had a lot of complaints in Blount County on these horses. Officers are doing the best they can as far as what they have to work with as far as Tennessee law.”

Margetson said this situation repeats itself in other communities and some attribute the drought-stricken hay crop as one reason horses aren’t being fed properly.

“All over Tennessee we’ve had problems with the price of hay, but it’s not an excuse,” she said. “If you can’t afford to feed these animals, you shouldn’t have them.”

Blount County Sheriff’s Office Assistant Chief Jimmy Long said the sheriff’s office didn’t prosecute because normally the Humane Society does those investigations. “Our stance is animal cruelty is normally investigated by the Humane Society, and if they feel something is criminal in nature and they contact us, we assist them as needed in prosecution,” he said.

Long said that process would have to be followed in this case. “Certainly all ‘i’s need to be dotted and the ‘t’s crossed. A vet has to tell us the cause of death and then, if he or she feels there’s any neglect or any cruelty issues, the Humane Society gets involved. At that point we assist them if needed,” he said.

Long said this is one situation that relates back to the animal control problem the county is experiencing.

“We’re not equipped to deal with those things. We try to assist all parties involved within our capabilities. Hopefully a decision will be made soon to provide those services,” he said.

Long said that by state law the Humane Society has authority to investigate. “The Humane Society has the power under Tennessee code, to actually, if no livestock animal is involved, to arrest,” he said. “We turn it over to them for investigation, and, if they need assistance, they contact us.”

Steve Phipps with Blount County Humane Society couldn’t comment specifically on the case because it was an ongoing investigation but said he is training more volunteers to do animal cruelty investigations involving all kinds of animals.

“It’s a huge problem the Humane Society is trying to address. This is the first case we’ve had to take to the authorities,” he said of the Topside Road incident. “This stands alone in that manner.”

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