Anastasia’s Ally, upon seizure (inset) and at press time.
Three emaciated horses were seized in the parking lot of the New Holland sale barn on Sunday, July 27, 2014. For two of the horses, New Holland was the end of a tortuous road. The third horse, now called Anastasia’s Ally, is thriving at Days End Farm Horse Rescue in Woodbine, MD and will soon be available for adoption. Who bought these horses, and who sold them? How could anyone be so oblivious to their conditions? Where were they headed? The sad story of these three Arabians is another chapter in an all-too-familiar tragedy.
Patty Sherwood of McClure in Snyder County says that she was never in possession of the horses, but was an intermediary. She says that Charlie Fisher purchased all three Arabian horses from New Holland in May, and subsequently asked her if she knew anyone who might be interested in buying them from him. Sherwood has a Facebook page titled Miracles Happen for Horses, in which she posts pictures of horses that need new owners. She says that her organization is emphatically not a rescue. Instead, “our goal is to help save horses before they make it into the hands of Auction Barns, Kill Buyers and the Slaughter Pipeline.” She said that she knows Fisher’s father Carl, and has posted pictures of some of his horses in the past. She contacted a rescue group she knew in Florida, and they agreed to take the horses.
“I didn’t know anything about the horses, all I had was pictures of the horses,” she says. “They (the Florida rescue) were very interested in the horses, but wanted pictures. I forwarded the pictures on to them. (In the photos) the horses were very thin, but in my estimation they were very bright eyed, they were alert.” She said that she thought the horses would be fine once they arrived at the rescue.
But the horses were not fine. One horse went down in the trailer, and the other two were barely able to stand. Fisher had arranged for the horses to be transferred to another trailer for the trip to Florida. The exchange was supposed to take place in the parking lot of the New Holland sale barn. Since there are no auctions on Sunday, there was virtually no other activity in the parking lot.
When Fisher discovered that the one horse was down, he called Dr. James Holt, who is a veterinarian, and who has been affiliated with the New Holland sale barn for several years. Sherwood says she’s not sure exactly what happened next. “I was never in the truck or trailer, and I never saw these three horses in person. I believe the SPCA was called on Monday.”
A Tip, Two Dead Horses, Recrimination
“It was an anonymous tip given through our Facebook page,” that led to the horses, Susan Martin explains. She is Executive Director of the Lancaster County SPCA, and is also a Humane Police Officer. She learned that Holt had the horses, and she contacted him. Martin filed numerous charges against Fisher, his wife Lori and Sherwood. The charges included animal cruelty and transportation of a disabled animal. Even though Sherwood had never been in custody of the horses, and had never seen them in person, Martin says that she was an accomplice to the abuse.
“Patty Sherwood was the one who actually physically accepted payment,” Martin explains. “It doesn’t matter by law. She admitted in court that she knew the horses were in bad condition. That makes her an accomplice.”
Holt euthanized two of the horses within 24 hours of their arrival in New Holland, and the third was immediately transferred to Days End. Sherwood says that the pictures she forwarded to the Florida rescue before Fisher drove them to New Holland didn’t show horses in serious distress, although she did admit that they looked thin. She doesn’t understand what happened to the three horses. She says she never had anything but the pictures of the horses. “I’ve been getting hate mail. How I got accused of starving and transporting them, that’s totally beyond me.” She says that this whole thing has been a nightmare for her and her family.
“One of the papers even wrote that I wasn’t available for contact. Nobody has ever contacted me,” she says. “I just started getting citations in the mail. I’ve had people giving me a lot of grief for having a dealer’s license. It’s the law.” Sherwood believes that people assume that anyone with a dealer’s license is a kill buyer. But she says the law requires her to have a dealer’s license in order to act as an intermediary between buyers and sellers of horses. “I really feel like I’ve been beaten to death over all of this.”
Waiting for Judgment
The Fisher’s and Sherwood went to court in September, but Holt did not show up to testify, so the case was rescheduled. Martin says the subpoena was mailed to the wrong address, and Holt never knew about the date. Finally the case was heard on November 5. Charlie Fisher was found guilty of nine counts of animal cruelty and transporting disabled animals. Charges against his wife Lori were dismissed and charges against Sherwood were withdrawn. Fisher was ordered to pay $1,319 in restitution and nine fines of $100 each.
Martin says that Fisher’s punishment was far less than the crime he committed. “I think the good thing is the next time Fisher decides to pull this stunt, he’ll think twice.” She looks at this case as a gauntlet thrown down in the face of people who abuse animals—particularly horses. “Because there’s been so much lack of regulation at sale barns, I think this puts a signal out that we’re going to find out about this. Although I would have liked to see much steeper fines.”
She believes that legislators who ignore or excuse animal cruelty and fail to address it with tougher penalties cannot possibly comprehend the horrific dimensions of these crimes. “I was there when those horses were dying. Those legislators don’t have to live with what we see every day. I think it’s kind of a slap on the hand, but the judge acted in accordance with the law. I’m thankful that he (Fisher) was found guilty, because he could have walked.”
A New Life, a Bright Future
At Days End, it’s just the beginning for Anastasia’s Ally. DeEtte Gorrie says the mare has gained weight and is responding well to loving, compassionate care. “She’s doing very, very well, and is very near coming out of her rehab program.” Once she has completed rehab, Gorrie says the mare will be made available for adoption. “Once the horse is up to a body condition score of five, and has completed all the treatment and care,” she explains, “she goes into an evaluation with our trainer.” During that evaluation, which can last 30-60 days, the trainers try to ascertain what kind of training the horse has had. Often they also try to understand what kinds of “jobs” horses might be capable of, such as dressage, or eventing or pleasure riding, and they work on developing those skills.
Gorrie says that all the horses at Days End come from authorities who have seized them as a result of abuse and/or neglect. The farm has been operating for 25 years, and every year on January 1, the horses that have come in during the previous 12 months are renamed alphabetically in the order of their arrival. Gorrie says that when Anastasia’s Ally arrived in July, they were working on double letters.
Anastasia’s Ally nearly died in the parking lot of the New Holland sale barn. But she has proved that compassion works, and that when people don’t look away from abuse, great things can happen for animals.