Jackie Burke with Otto, who is recovering from near starvation. Otto wears an alarm on his halter to alert the staff if he goes down and can’t get up.
“It was their back yard. You can see the horses, and just seeing them wasting away is unimaginable. Why someone would ever allow that to happen, I can’t understand.” Jackie Burke has been working with Last Chance Ranch in Quakertown for 15 years. She has seen a lot. Still, what she saw on Clyde “Renny” Shoop’s farm in Carbon County in the snow-covered landscape was heartrending. “The fact that it had snowed, and most of it was snow-covered, meant that we didn’t get the full force, like the first rescuers in there.”
Those first rescuers were confronted with a horrific scene on January 22. Pennsylvania State Police investigators, along with personnel from Lehigh Valley County Animal Response Team (CART) and other CART groups arrived at the farm on Sunny Rest Drive in Palmerton, PA responding to complaints about dead horses on property owned by Shoop. They found the remains of numerous horses in the pasture. There were also several horses still alive, but nearly dead from starvation. Ultimately, 16 live horses were removed from the property; subsequently four of them died.
Burke said that the snow had covered the bodies of horses and other animals that were left where they died—in the pasture and even the driveway. The scene was a nightmare, made even more incomprehensible because Shoop is a large animal veterinarian. Burke said that the owners of the property had apparently tried to burn the bodies of the horses and several other animals. “There were burn piles. When we got there, there was snow on the ground but underneath the snow there were burn piles,” Burke explained, still incredulous that people are capable of such abject cruelty. Someone pointed out a stack of pallets and said there were dead horses under the pallets in the snow. “They said over here there’s a mattress, and underneath the mattress there was another body. There were recently dug spots, and we think there were horses buried there as well.”
In addition to the horses, there were sheep, goats, dogs and other animals on the property, leaving rescuers and police wondering who could allow animals to endure this profound suffering.
A Remote Farm with a Troubled Past
The pasture where the horses were kept is not visible from the road, Burke said, so people driving by would not notice anything that might suggest the privation that was slowly, mercilessly killing the horses. Shoop, along with Kimberly Shoop who lived on the farm, were each individually formally charged with 11 counts of animal cruelty on February 3.
But this is not the first time that Renny Shoop has been charged with animal cruelty. In 2009 he was charged by a Humane Police Officer from Pocono Animal Rescue with four counts of animal cruelty. The charges were dismissed by a district court judge in that case, despite the fact that the horses were kept in filthy conditions, and that they had no access to fresh water. The dismissal of those charges reflects a weakness in the safety net meant to protect animals in Pennsylvania from abuse, and set the stage for the current case against Shoop. It is not unreasonable to question whether Shoop would have continued to neglect and starve the animals on his property had he been held accountable in 2009.
In Pennsylvania, Humane Police Officers investigate crimes against animals. They gather evidence, arrest and bring charges against perpetrators of animal cruelty. In that regard, they have legal authority similar to those of municipal and state police officers. But they are employees of non-profit organizations such as the Pennsylvania Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA), Pocono Animal Rescue, etc. The state Department of Agriculture is required to maintain a current list of accredited Humane Police Officers, along with the counties in which they are permitted to operate. This list would include those individuals who have completed requisite training in Pennsylvania’s animal cruelty laws, the rules of criminal procedure, etc. Unfortunately this listing is not currently displayed on the Department of Agriculture’s website, and apparently has not been updated since 2009.
Because non-profit animal welfare agencies’ budgets are tight, many have let their Humane Police Officers go, in order to focus on caring for the abused, neglected and abandoned cats and dogs that fill their shelters. The result is additional stress on those officers that remain. State, county and municipal police departments are not equipped to investigate animal abuse cases—not because they’re not interested, but because they, too, are dealing with limited resources; and animal cruelty is often a silent crime. In the case of large animals like horses, cows, sheep and goats, police agencies don’t have facilities to place the animals once they’re seized. It’s a dilemma, and as long as it eludes solutions, animals will continue to suffer and die.
“Why Don’t People Ask for Help?”
These animals had been in trouble for a long time, Burke says. “From everyone I’ve talked to, it didn’t sound like it was just the past couple of months. It seems it had been going on for several years.” Apparently numerous individuals had been trying to help. “We were told that day by the people at the facility that people had known for a while—mainly family and friends who were assisting and taking care of the horses. But the general public didn’t know, and unfortunately it took a lot of complaints and the police being able to gather what they thought was enough evidence to get a warrant to search the property and seize the horses.
And the complaints that finally brought the suffering to an end were from neighbors. There was no shortage of space for the horses, she said, but the fencing was not secure. “So I know that one of the ways people got involved with this was some of the horses started to wander and show up on other peoples’ properties looking for food.” There was not really a barn on the property, either, so there was minimal shelter for the animals.
The horses that were not strong enough to wander in search of a handout from the neighbors were surviving by eating the bark off trees. Burke showed how one of the horses, Otto, had severely worn teeth. “He is old, but they’re pretty worn. Even the younger ones have pretty worn teeth. Showing they were eating some pretty rough stuff in order to survive.”
She said that there was no evidence that this was a hoarding situation; more than likely the people just got in over their heads. “Why someone would ever allow that to happen, I can’t understand,” she said. “I would try to do anything for the animals. Why don’t people ask for help?”
Zero on the Henneke Scale
Horses’ body conditions are rated on what is known as the Henneke Scale, with a rating of 1 being extremely emaciated. Several of the horses seized from the Shoop property were rated zero, meaning that their conditions were even below what is considered severely emaciated. “It was unimaginable what those horses had been through,” Burke says.
Last Chance Ranch personnel and volunteers brought eight horses to their facility. Two of them, Clarissa and Otto, Burke says, “were pretty much zeros.” The three emaciated horses that arrived at the facility were unable to stand during the trailer ride and. had to be pulled off the trailer and carried into the barn. The worst went to Quakertown Vet Clinic for emergency vet care. Two horses that were sent directly to Quakertown Veterinary Hospital died within the first 48 hours. A third subsequently died.
Three other horses were sent to Days End Farm Horse Rescue in Woodbine, MD, where one was euthanized after it was clear the horse was neurologically damaged and unable to stand on his own. The other two horses at Days End are improving.
Last Chance Ranch has five mares, two stallions and a gelding from the Shoop farm, along with 18 sheep and two goats. Two of the mares are pregnant and 13 of the sheep are most likely pregnant, Burke said. Two additional horses are being fostered at other farms, under supervision by Last Chance Ranch.
The Will to Live
As the two most critically ill horses, Clarissa and Otto, continue to improve, each milestone they achieve adds another link in the emotional bond between the people at Last Chance Ranch and the horses. They’re both still weak, and recently Otto went down and was unable to get himself back up. “At first he didn’t appear as though he was going to put his feet back down. And you think if he won’t support himself, there’s only so much you can do. But then finally he put his feet out and he got his stance, and he stood there on his own, and it was amazing. The amazing thing is that even when they’re lying on their sides, they’re still eating, still accepting water. You can tell these horses want to live, but at the same time, what’s going on internally, you never know.” She says they’re being monitored carefully, but it’s hard to tell how much internal damage may have been done by their near-starvation, and by the unrelenting fear in which they had been living.
“They’re not out of the woods yet,” she says. “Anything could happen.”
The lingering question is whether anything good could happen as a result of this case. From horse racing, to breeding farms, to the world-class horse shows in Pennsylvania, and all the other animal-centric events throughout the year, Pennsylvania receives a lot of revenue. How is it that the welfare of the animals responsible for this revenue is so profoundly under-funded and ignored?
Last Chance Ranch and Days End Farm Need Donations
Caring for the horses rescued from Renny Shoop’s farm—as well as caring for all the other rescued animals both organizations have on their properties—is costly. They are asking for support from the public to help them provide the medical care and rehabilitation these animals need. Last Chance Ranch needs money, medical supplies, vet wrap, gift cards for farm supplies, etc. And they’re hosting their third annual Tails & Ties Rescue Gala on Saturday, April 9, from 6-10 p.m. The event will honor Dr. Samuel Geller, and will be held at the Historic Hotel Bethlehem at 437 Main Street in Bethlehem. Tickets in advance are $80, and available on the organization’s website: www.lastchanceranch.org. Tickets at the door will be $95. There will be an open bar, hors d’oeuvres and live music.
Days End Farm Horse Rescue is also seeking donations to help them care for the two horses at their facility, as well as ongoing expenses for the horses in their care. They also need medical supplies, dewormer, vet wrap, etc. Please check their website: www.defhr.org, to find out how you can help.