Alberta SPCA investigates after emaciated horses sold at auction

Investigators with the Alberta SPCA are searching for the previous owners of three emaciated horses put up for sale at an auction north of Edmonton.

The thoroughbreds, sold on Sept. 19 in Westlock, appeared to be malnourished and dehydrated, Alberta SPCA spokesperson Dan Kobe said Friday.

There is concern the animals were neglected and may have been transported to the sale while in distress, in contravention of provincial livestock regulations, Kobe said.

The SPCA received complaints from the public, he said. 

“We had a number of complaints coming in over the weekend,” Kobe said. “There was concern that the horses were very sick. ” 

The peace officer investigating the case will use documents from the auction house to identify the original owners, Kobe said.

“That would be a significant part of that investigation,” he said. “If the horses are deemed neglected, charges could be laid.” 

The three thoroughbreds were among 11 horses purchased at auction by the Whitecourt Homeless Animal Rescue Foundation (WHARF). 

“We ended up getting six horses that were in questionable condition but these thoroughbreds were the worst,” said Tessa Lee, president of the rescue agency.

“They were extremely skinny and really dehydrated. They looked defeated.” 

If you have property to have horses, you should have access to grass. It just doesn’t make any sense.– Tessa Lee

The three horses were severely underweight, Lee said. On the 1-10 scale used to measure horse weights, the animals measured in at minus-1. 

Lee, who is now caring for the horses with assistance from local veterinarians, can’t fathom why the animals were so underweight.

She suspects they were neglected long before they were put up for auction and is pleased their owners will be investigated. 

“You always hope that they’re going to get charged and that obviously that the SPCA is going to go out — which they do — and make sure that there’s no other animal suffering on the property

“If you have property to have horses, you should have access to grass. It just doesn’t make any sense.” 

The Alberta SPCA has launched an investigation into the allegations of neglect after receiving several complaints from the public. (Tessa Lee/Facebook)

Two of the horses are expected to make a full recovery.  The third will need to be euthanized due to issues with the weight-bearing tendons in his legs.

Lee said the horse’s condition will only worsen with time. She will put him down before winter but wants to let him “enjoy life” for a little while.

“They nicker for snacks and they’re eating really well and drinking a lot of water,” she said of the three horses. “Overall, they’re brighter, they’re starting to act like horses.

“They’re just pretty much living the life, wearing blankets and eating food.” 

Bidding against the slaughterhouse 

Lee has no doubt the animals were bound for the slaughterhouse.

She attended the sale with the intention of bidding against meat buyers who ship animals overseas. The horses, loaded onto planes at the Calgary and Edmonton airports, are usually bound for Japan where horse meat is considered a delicacy.

The practice is legal but has prompted protests from horse advocacy groups.

“We buy horses that nobody else wants,” Lee said. 

“We bid directly against the meat buyers, rehabilitate the horses and adopt them out to new homes.” 

There’s so many you can’t, you just can’t save them all. It’s impossible.– Tessa Lee

Lee’s rescue agency has historically cared for cats and dogs but has started taking in horses.

Many of them end up at the stables outside her home in Mayerthorpe.

She’s taken in more than 20 rescue horses in the past year. 

Lee said it’s frustrating to attend the horse auctions but, with assistance from public donors and her volunteers, she hopes to save as many as she can.

“There’s definitely a need for it,” she said. She estimates that more than 100 horses at the latest auction in Westlock were purchased for slaughter.

“There’s so many you can’t, you just can’t save them all. It’s impossible.

“We don’t ever have to leave a dog behind. We don’t ever have to leave a cat behind.  But with the horses, the ones you don’t pick, you know they’re sentenced to death so it’s tough.” 

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