Big Red has been the focus of a lot of attention.
He’s had his teeth fixed. His hooves, too, although there’s a lot more work needed for those to be fully healed.
He’s also eating and drinking anything put in front of him — something that wasn’t a given when he was rescued May 31 from a Grafton Township property so emaciated, he was deemed 300 to 400 pounds underweight.
Greg Willey, executive director of the Friendship Animal Protection League, said it was touch and go immediately after Big Red was trailered from the property at 36350 state Route 303 along with a black-and-white mare who was in equally bad shape, as well as two other horses and a pony.
He said a veterinarian was called immediately after the horses were rescued with the expectation that Big Red — the name he’s been given by his rescuers — wouldn’t survive.
“We thought we were going to lose Big Red,” he said as he petted the animal’s nose and fed him apples Thursday. “He wasn’t eating. He wasn’t drinking. We thought he’d given up. Right before the vet got here, there was a praise God moment, and he started drinking … we saw a total transformation of his personality in a few hours.”
He’s still not out of the woods. On a scale of one to 10, with one being near death, Willey said Big Red was a two and the mare, now known as Lucy, a three. They were that bad.
“With Big Red, we won’t be forced to make the decision, but nature could still take its course,” he said. “He has a lot of damage to his kidneys and liver from malnutrition. He is out of the immediate worst part where we’d have to have a vet intervene, but there is always the chance he could just drop over.”
His recovery, Willey said, will take at least six to eight months. He and the other horses are being housed at a foster farm and being cared for by the foster family as well as Animal Protective League workers and the vets and animal workers such as a farrier who is trying to heal his hooves.
Lucy’s condition also is improving, although her overall health isn’t so easy to pinpoint.
Big Red — according to an identifying tattoo on his upper lip — used to be a racehorse named Mr. Cuddles. He had an average career, according to his statistics, but being in the racing business, he is used to human interaction. That isn’t the case for Lucy, who hasn’t been socialized and is skittish around her human helpers, Willey said.
“It looks like we’ll have to sedate her to do work on the feet,” he said. “We know they are bad, but we are still unsure how bad.”
Willey said Lorain County animal lovers have been generous in their support of the horses by donating hay and feed. Still, the animals are racking up thousands of dollars in medical bills, he said.
“Seeing a horse in such a condition, it’s really traumatic,” he said. “To see such a large animal shrunk down — it looks so much more evident than when you see a smaller animal.”
All of the horses were rescued from the property after Denise Willis, humane officer for the Friendship APL, received an anonymous tip about their condition.
As a result of what they found, sheriff’s deputies filed animal cruelty and obstructing official business charges against Mahmoud Abukhalil, 41, and Richard Newton, 49. Abukhalil owned the property, while Newton was supposed to care for the animals, deputies said. They both denied ownership of the animals and gave conflicting information about the owner — he was in a car accident or he was out of the country, depending on who was talking with deputies.
Abukhalil, who has a Lakewood address listed on court records, has filed to have the horses returned to him. A hearing is scheduled 2 p.m. July 10 in Elyria Municipal Court before Judge Lisa Locke Graves to determine whether he will get them back.
The other rescued horses were in better shape because they had been brought to the property only in May, Willey said.
Willey said the ownership interest — and who is to blame for the horses’ condition — is for the legal system to decide. Still, he said, “The moment they are on your property, you have a legal obligation to make sure those animals are OK.”