COLUMBIA CITY — More than six months after being saved from certain starvation, 11 ponies and one horse are making a comeback, chewing hay, rolling around in the mud and nipping at the haunches of their nearest playmate.
“They were all pretty out of control when we got them,” said Michelle Heitz, owner of Shadarobah Horse Rescue southeast of Churubusco.
Heitz received eight of the original 13 animals found neglected and starving at the residence of James and Cynthia Mullins of Larwill.
Five of the animals were sent to be under the care of Denise Brewster of Huntington’s Equine Rescue League. One of the ponies didn’t make it.
“We did lose one,” said Brewster. “Her intestines were blocked and I think she just couldn’t process food because she was so malnourished.”
Brewster said the pony survived about two months before succumbing to the results of neglect.
Both Heitz and Brewster have been caring for the animals, with a little help, since they were discovered in August, 2010.
The Whitley County Health Department, acting on a tip, contacted the Whitley County Sheriff’s Department and officials arrived at the Mullins residence to find the endangered animals. The police report said the animals were deprived of food, water and shelter.
It had been the second such incident in the past six years involving the couple.
The husband and wife were arrested and charged with felony animal neglect.
The two were sentenced Feb. 22 to two years in the Whitley County Jail with no time to serve.
One year of the sentence was ordered as home detention while the other year was suspended and includes probation.
The two are also ordered not to have any animals during the two-year period.
For Heitz and Brewster, seeking the assistance of temporary homes, the horse equivalent of foster care, helped in the rehabilitation of the animals.
Early this week, the two caregivers were contacted by Whitley County officials that the case had been resolved and that ownership could now be officially transferred.
“I have two in foster care and they’ll be adopted now that we have custody,” said Brewster.
Since their arrival, Brewster’s guests have been getting healthier by the day.
“They’re doing extremely well,” Brewster said. “They all have a body score of five, which is excellent.”
Brewster, who has been rescuing horses for six years, said her two remaining ponies are awaiting new digs.
“We’re looking for a forever home for these animals,” she said, “now that they’re back to health.”
Heitz had placed three of her eight animals in “long-term foster care.” One pony, according to her, arrived from the Larwill residence pregnant.
“They’ve all had their spring and fall shots and have had their teeth checked out by the dentist,” she said.
Heitz opened Shadarobah in September, 2008. She said she had a limited experience with horses growing up and took a crash course in all things equestrian. Since opening the rescue, Shadarobah has helped 109 horses. She said there are 11 horses currently on a waiting list.
“I guess God put me in this big barn to help horses,” Heitz said.