Horses languished for years on Northfield farm, police say

Last modified: 6/18/2014 12:39:09 AM
On April 25, Northfield police Sgt. Michael Hutchinson walked inside a crumbling horse barn on Bert Southwick’s farm and found a white stallion with hooves so overgrown they looked like “duck feet.”

“The hooves had not been cut, it was standing in a not cleaned stall with feces, the horse’s ribs and hip bones were exposed,” Hutchinson wrote in a June 4 affidavit. “It appeared the horse was under weight.”

A week ago, the Northfield police seized and relocated five horses and several pigs from the property that they said were malnourished, dehydrated and in various stages of extreme muscle atrophy. The barn where the animals were housed was poorly ventilated and sagging at its sides, its floor was coated in excrement, beams and rafters were collapsed and the roofing was blown away.

“There are electrical wires, insulation, and plastic tarps all within reach of the stalls,” the affidavit said. “The tarps are weighed down by rat and bird feces. All the stalls in the barn had large amount(s) of fecal material from not being cleaned out for most of the winter. All the horses but one had no water.”

Southwick, 90, has not been charged with a crime. He owns the land, but the police said he was not responsible for the care of the animals, was hospitalized for much of the winter and had left day-to-day tasks in the hands of his longtime caregiver, Harold Kelley.

Kelley owns two of the horses taken, Hutchinson said. The other three were allegedly abandoned three years ago by their owner, Joanie Osgood, who had been boarding them at the 85 Zion Hill Road property, according to the affidavit.

“Ms. Osgood has gone approximately three years without coming to the farm to care for the animals and during that time, provided no feed or did she pay her boarding fees,” it said.

Southwick, who became a fixture in the town by delivering eggs for more than seven decades on a horse-drawn buggy, said he charges a boarding fee of about $10 per week.

Kelley explained to Hutchinson in April that he had been working a full-time job in addition to his caretaker duties, and was trying to care for his mother on the side. He said he had been getting “no help from the people (who board their horses) here,” the affidavit said.

Neither Kelley nor Osgood has been charged with a crime. The police said their investigation is ongoing. Kelley declined to comment yesterday at the advisement of his attorney. Two phone numbers listed for a Joanie Osgood in Concord were no longer in service.

The police began investigating the farm in April after receiving two complaints about the animals’ health. During the April 25 visit, Hutchinson noted that several horses grazing in a pasture behind the barn were emaciated. When state horse experts inspected the property last month, they discovered that many had lice, most had not seen a veterinarian in years and some had rotting teeth.

Some of the horses were tied up inside the barn at night, others were not allowed to leave, the affidavit said. The pigs were also kept there, and were found laying in their own feces and eating from contaminated bowls.

In a chicken coop nearby, hens were scurrying about next to rotting rodent and chicken carcasses. Five more dead chickens had been tossed on a pile of manure outside. The state officials said they were told the rats had been poisoned, and the dead chickens had been pecking their infected corpse.

Teresa Paradis, executive director of Live and Let Live Farm, where the horses are being housed and rehabilitated, described conditions at the Northfield farm as abhorrent.

“It is one of the most horrendous housing situations I’ve ever seen animals forced to . . . and I’m not going to say live, because that’s not what they were doing – they were just existing,” she said, adding that the conditions there have been known for years.

Paradis said some of the horses hadn’t been exposed to daylight for months, at the least. They were all being treated, but she said it is “going to be a long haul.”

In a statement this week, the police said the biggest concerns are treating the animals for parasites and possible respiratory problems, and providing them with hoof and dental care. The only mare to be rescued “has some significant gashes in the area of her rear fetlocks, possibly from being hobbled or from rope burns . . . while being constrained,” the police said.

The pigs have been relocated to a new home and are healing, they added.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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