A team from the Central Missouri Humane Society was looking for a fallen, severely malnourished horse in the Hallsville area Sunday morning. But nothing could prepare them for what they found.
The horse was hidden behind a barn, some shrubs and a truck. As the team moved closer, they saw 6-inch trenches the horse had dug in the dirt with his hooves. The trenches were evidence of a desperate struggle to stand that was so violent the horse had multiple lesions on the side of his face and neck.
Lindsee Billings, shelter operations manager of the humane society, said when the team arrived the gelding’s strength was gone. All he could do was lie on the ground moaning.
He was too weak to open his eyes, one of which was swollen shut and oozing with white fluid. His body was gaunt. Billings held the horse as he died.
A team of veterinarians from MU arrived five minutes later.
“You’re helpless,” Billings said. “You can’t do anything but just sit there and watch him die.”
“This is the worst horse case I’ve ever seen,” Billings said.
A necropsy, conducted by the MU veterinarians, determined the cause of death was starvation and dehydration.
The humane society team found a second male horse in a nearby pasture. He was also severely malnourished, Billings said, but he was walking and friendly.
After an examination at the MU Veterinary School, the second horse was moved to an undisclosed location where he remains in the care of a foster family.
On Monday afternoon, Brandi M. Phillips, 21, and her husband, Thomas L. Phillips, 20, were taken into custody by the Boone County Sheriff’s Department on suspicion of animal neglect, a felony. Both were being held in the Boone County jail Monday evening with bond set at $5,000 each.
Billings said the Humane Society received an anonymous phone tip about starving horses Sunday morning.
Billings and an officer from the Columbia/Boone County Animal Control went to the Hallsville area farm at 9950 East Van Court Road.
Billings said the property was run-down, with only dirt in the pasture. There was no evidence of food or water for the animals. Inside the barn, wood from the fence had been gnawed away.
The horses might have been eating the fence to survive, Billings said.
Karen Stix, interim executive director of the Central Missouri Humane Society, said the animals had likely been neglected for months.
“Horses don’t get like that overnight,” she said.
Stix said the humane society receives about 7,000 animal calls annually.
“It’s heartbreaking,” she said. “Hardly a week goes by we don’t see something like this.”
Billings said there is hope for the horse that survived.
“Given proper nutrition and proper care, he should be OK based on what we know so far,” she said.