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Rescued horses were 'walking skeletons'

WOODSTOCK – Tracy McGonigle’s fingers bounced as she slowly grazed the clearly visible ribcage of a recently rescued horse named Mango.

McGonigle is executive director of the Hooved Animal Humane Society, a group that rescued Mango and five other severely malnourished horses from their owners in Barrington. HAHS has called the horses “walking skeletons.”

“They were skin and bones,” McGonigle said.

Mango was in the worst shape of the six horses, weighing only 818 pounds when he was rescued. His typical weight should have been at least 1,200 pounds, McGonigle said. Mango scored a one out of nine on the Henneke Body Condition Scoring Scale, meaning that his body structure was easily visible and his bones were projecting prominently.

“It’s one of the more severe [cases] as far as malnutrition,” McGonigle said.

Mango’s weak body collapsed when the horses were taken to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for emergency veterinary treatment. Unable to stand on his own, Mango was put into a sling for several days and had an extended stay at the Wisconsin clinic.

The horses were rescued June 21 after a determined and panicked passerby called HAHS and other Lake County officials. The caller, who was not named, told HAHS that he would not leave until someone came to rescue the horses.

“If that gentleman hadn’t called us, I can’t imagine what would have happened to them,” McGonigle said.

Charges have not been filed, Lake County Animal Care and Control officials said because the owners cooperated with officials and relinquished the horses to HAHS.

“The animals were in bad shape but it seemed like ignorance on the part of the owners,” said Leslie Piotrowski with the agency.

The horses then were taken to the Madison clinic, where they received immediate care and round-the-clock monitoring. They were released July 1, except for Mango, who stayed an extra week.

“They were pretty skinny,” McGonigle said. “They looked like they were loved at some point. I don’t know what happened.”

Many of the horses had heart murmurs; their hides were dry and matted; some had lice; and all had visible rib cages, protruding hip bones, and knobby spines. The heart murmurs were a result of malnutrition, the veterinarian told McGonigle, and should go away once the horses are healthy again.

With the visible bones and not an ounce of extra fat or muscle, it’s not readily apparent that each horse has gained about 80 to 100 pounds since the rescue.

But the horses still have a long road ahead. Now that they’re back in HAHS care, they are on a re-feeding schedule that gives them meals four times a day and limited exercise. They are allowed to roam and graze in the pasture only for one hour a day until they become strong enough to withstand more.

“It will be several months to get them back in good health,” McGonigle said, adding that once the horses are healthy, they will be put up for adoption.

McGonigle urged people to report animal abuse or neglect to the appropriate officials.

“We need to emphasize how important it is for every citizen, and we want to encourage anyone who witnesses what may be abuse or neglect of any kind, to please step up to the plate, file the report, and save a life,” she said.

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