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Starving horses rescued from a property in Red Deer County

Alberta SPCA seize horses, investigation continues
Shortly after his rescue from a property in Red Deer County on July 12, 2022, a photo was taken of Marvin beside a healthy horse the same age. (Contributed)

A severely emaciated horse so weak it couldn’t stand was seized from a property in Red Deer County in July and is slowly regaining his strength.

Named Marvin by his new, temporary caretakers, the yearling is about half the size of similar horses his age after being seriously malnourished for about six to eight months.

Alberta SPCA peace officer Ryan Butterwick said on July 12 Red Deer County Fire Department called about a horse that was wrapped in wire.

“He wasn’t wrapped up in some wire. He just fell down against the fence and couldn’t get up,” said Butterwick who visited Marvin for the first time in about four weeks at the caretaker’s property in central Alberta on Wednesday.

“He was literally a hide draped over a skeleton. There was no muscle.”

At first sight, he thought Marvin was dead.

“I’ve seen horses in been better shape than him that didn’t make it. He had a lot of will,” said Butterwick who estimated Marvin’s initial body score was .5 out of 10, and has since improved to 1.5.

“The caretakers had to get him up on his feet every hour the first two weeks he was here. He’d lie down and just didn’t have the energy to get back up.”


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Marvin currently has partial sight in one eye that was injured while he was thrashing around trying to get up before he was rescued. Sores on his body from all the time he spent lying down are healing, and he’s being treated for a bacterial fungus while his immune system improves.

Butterwick said it’s amazing how well Marvin has done with the proper nutrition, but it will be months before he is healthy enough to be rehomed.

“There’s already been quite a bit of interest in Marvin. It’s just a matter of finding the right fit for him,” the peace officer said.

Dr. Rick Katchuik, of Alberta Veterinary Centre, said Marvin’s digestive system is still recovering, and his growth is likely permanently impaired, but he seems to be thriving in his new environment.

“He doesn’t look very good today, but he looks 1,000 per cent better than he did,” Katchui said.

“He’s very lucky.”

So far the Alberta SPCA has spent $2,300 on veterinary care, care taking and transportation for Marvin and two other horses removed from the same property, Marvin’s mother and an older brother, that are in care elsewhere.

Part of the reason Marvin was so malnourished was that he was penned in the same area as the older horses and when there was food available, they didn’t let Marvin access much.


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Alberta SPCA said while the number of complaints to its Animal Distress Line remains consistent, the level of neglect and the number of animals involved is increasing. Population control for both pets and livestock is the first step in ensuring there are enough homes for animals.

Communications manager Dan Kobe said livestock owners need to have six months of feed on their property heading into winter to ensure they don’t run out.

“Do the math now. Understand how much feed you need. If you don’t have it, if you can’t get it, make some decisions now before the animals turn out like Marvin,” Kobe said.

“Don’t wait until they look like this and someone shows up at your door asking what’s going on with your animals. Have some compassion for the animals.”

The investigation into the neglect of Marvin and the other horses is still underway.

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Marvin was still very skinny on August 17, 2022, five weeks after being rescued from a property in Red Deer County. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)