Minnesota Hay Bank launched to help struggling horse owners - FOX 29 News Philadelphia | WTXF-TV

Minnesota Hay Bank launched to help struggling horse owners

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HUGO, Minn. (KMSP) -

A southern Minnesota man is facing multiple criminal charges in what is being called one of the largest horse neglect cases in the history of the state, but a group working to prevent cases like these has a plan that could make it the last.

Investigators found carcasses on the Fillmore County farm owned by 80-year-old Wilbur Schmoll and seized 55 animals in failing health from the property earlier this month. Of those, five had to be euthanized.

While the news of the case sparked outrage among many, it's also prompting action. The Minnesota Horse Welfare Coalition, a group of organizations, horse rescues, attorneys, humane agents and individuals working to prevent horse neglect and abuse, has launched the Minnesota Hay Bank to help protect other animals from meeting the same fate.

Cherie McKenzie told FOX 9 News her horses are a huge part of her life. She owns and operates the Sundown Farm and Shelter in Hugo.

"I just love animals," she explained. "They've given me so much joy over the years."

So, when she heard about neglected horses like those rescued from Schmoll's farm near the state's southern border -- malnourished, sick, injured and on the verge of death, her heart breaks.

"It takes a long, agonizing period of time for a horse to get that way," McKenzie said. "They've suffered just horrendously."

While she hopes state laws will someday punish violators more severely, McKenzie is teaming up with other equine aficionados in an effort to make sure no more horses go hungry by starting up a hay bank.

A 30-pound bail of hay costs $4.75, but with the diet staple in short supply and prices rising, some owners are having trouble getting enough food for their animals. The cost of feeding the average horse for a month in this economy is $180 a month.

Rising costs in a down economy has led to malnourishment, abandonment -- sometimes even death, but the hay bank hopes to connect struggling owners with free or reduced hay when times get tough.

"We will borrow them hay," McKenzie said. "They may not pay right now. We will borrow -- get them their supply -- so animals are not starving."

The group is relying on financial help from the Minnesota Humane Society as well as private and corporate donations to make it possible. Eventually, they'd like to have hay suppliers in all four corners of the state to ensure no more images of starving and malnourished horses crop up in Minnesota ever again.

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