Two distressed horses rescued from a BC mountain in late December will not be returned to their Edmonton owner, says an official with the BC SPCA.
“The BC SPCA has made the decision not to return the horses,” says Debbie Goodine, animal protection officer for the BC SPCA in Prince George. Goodine also expects criminal charges will be recommended against the owner, Edmonton lawyer Frank Mackay, 63, “within the next week.”
The horses, a three-year-old mare and 14-year-old gelding, were found trapped in deep snow on Mount Renshaw, near McBride BC, on December 15. Severely emaciated and missing patches of hair due to rain scalding, local citizens felt the horses were still healthy enough to rescue. Over the next week, a group of 6-8 volunteers from the Robson Valley area dug a one km trench in two-metre deep snow, braving temperatures of -30 C.
The animals were walked out in the late evening of December 23 and handed over to BC SPCA custody. Since then, the agency has been investigating the circumstances around the abandonment of the horses by Mackay.
After the rescue, Mackay submitted a written claim of ownership to the BC SPCA general manager of cruelty investigations. The rejection of Mackay’s claim means he would have to go through the courts to gain custody of the animals.
For local volunteers involved in the rescue, the decision not to return the horses is a cause for celebration.
“It’s a big victory,” says Birgit Stutz, a certified horse trainer who looked after the animals during the rescue efforts. “That’s what we really wanted, that these horses don’t go back to him.”
Mackay first left the horses September 12 after getting stuck in muskeg while taking supplies to a friend hiking the Great Divide Trail. Approximately 6 km from a local trail, the horses refused to budge. Since it was near a well-used trail, Mackay expected the horses to wander out on their own and notified the local RCMP about the situation. When he returned to the area in October to look again, he couldn’t find the horses.
Mackay finally reached the horses on December 6 with three snowmobilers from the Edmonton area. Finding the horses weakened and in deep snow, Mackay fed the horses one last time, removed their bells, and left them to die.
Volunteer Dave Jeck, who spearheaded the rescue after his son found the horses, says most volunteers feel Mackay could have done more to help the horses.
“Considering everything, I feel that [Mackay] didn’t put in the required effort,” says Jeck. “I feel he was negligent.”
During the rescue efforts, Mackay failed to contact the volunteers working to free his animals. Jeck calls it an example of bad public relations: “He could have been there giving moral support, talking to people, maybe buying supper some nights.”
The horses are currently being held in an undisclosed foster care facility in Prince George. And while they are eating and gaining weight, Goodine says the recovery from malnourishment is slow due to the sensitivity of their stomachs.
“They’re on the road to recovery,” says Goodine, who says the horses are undergoing a slow feed regime. “We’re looking at hundreds of pounds to put back on.”
When reached by phone, Mackay refused to comment until the case is over.
The seizure of the horses means the horses might be eventually reunited with their rescuers. Once the horses recover and are legally owned by the SPCA, they could be adopted into the Robson Valley community.
“If they end up being our horses,” says Goodine, “the folks involved in the rescue will have first dibs.”
For his part, Jeck doesn’t care who gets the horses, as long as they go to a good home.
“If there’s somebody here that wants them and would take them, that’s good.”