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Views vary on horses' treatment on Hampshire farm

Accusations of theft, animal abuse between organizations

HAMPSHIRE – In the wake of the animal cruelty case involving a petting zoo in Hampshire, a nonprofit horse rescue organization believes another farm, also in Hampshire, is neglecting animals.

Stardust Sanctuary, an Elgin-based horse rescue group, began offering its services to the Northern Illinois Equine Training Center in October after it noticed approximately 150 horses standing in more than three feet of mud. Some horses had the appearance of untreated skin conditions, poor living conditions and untrimmed hooves, which can be extremely painful to the animals, the group claimed.

Stardust co-founders Laurette Kay and Leslie SanFilippo entered into a verbal agreement with farm owner Karen Bingham, who rents the property at 48W216 Immelman Lane, to provide adequate care for the horses, provide improvements to the farm and help her trim her herd.

But in March, after months of adding numerous improvements to the farm, including purchasing shelters, providing on-site veterinary care and hoof trimming, Bingham accused Stardust of stealing two of her horses after they brought the animals to an off-site veterinarian, which Kay said Bingham agreed to. Bingham called the Kane County Sheriff and barred the organization from returning to the farm.

“I feel that we all went in with goodwill,” Kay said. “We went in with compassion for the woman and the horses … Every single animal was in need of care. Their feet were not done. They were not de-wormed. They were not even on pain meds. The horses hide their pain. They suffer in silence.”

But according to Bingham, along with reports by the Kane County Sheriff’s Office, the farm is in good standing and is not neglecting any of the horses.

“I’ve had Kane County Animal Control people come in,” Bingham said. “I’ve had the OK from the Illinois Department of Agriculture … The truth needs to come out.”

According to the report from the sheriff’s office, an officer drove to the farm unannounced after multiple calls from Stardust and found “no visible signs of injury on any of the horses and no signs of abuse or neglect.” The report also said Kane County Animal Control Director Robert Sauceda performed an independent inspection and found no sings of abuse or neglect.

But Stardust, which with the help from donors has spent roughly $45,000 rehabbing the farm and providing care to the horses, said the abuse is evident to those with a trained eye. They hired two independent veterinarians to evaluate the health of the horses, who both came away concerned by the quality of care.

“A whole lot of the horses were underweight,” said John Hanover, a vet at the Animal Hospital of Gurnee. “They had inappropriate foot care. Their feet were way too long, causing pain and limb problems … Horses were trembling in pain.”

Valerie Gramm owns a horse farm next door to Northern Illinois Equine Training Center and said she has seen six horses die from neglect in the two years since Bingham moved there.

“It’s deplorable,” Gramm said. “This has been going on for years and no one is doing anything about it … Nobody does anything because the horses are fed. Those horses are suffering miserably.”

Stardust’s view is that since the animals have adequate food and water, officials are letting other conditions such as hoof length and quantity of muck slide.

“Is this where we’re at in our society, where it’s acceptable to turn your back on doing the right thing?” said Stacy Barsema, one of Stardust’s donors who has worked closely with the group during the last several months. “We’re stuck. We can’t do anything. We can’t help the animals … They’re suffering at a level I have never seen before.”

The Illinois Humane Care for Animals Act states that an owner’s duties include providing a sufficient quantity of good quality food and water, adequate shelter and protection from the weather, veterinary care when needed to prevent suffering, and humane care and treatment.

Stardust believes Bingham has fallen short on the latter two requirements and did not have adequate shelter until the group installed them for her.

John Meador owns the property that Bingham rents for $4,200 a month. Bingham has failed to pay rent since mid-February, and Meador is evicting her from the property. They are due in court Tuesday.

But Meador said Bingham has otherwise been a fine renter and he has not noticed any signs of neglect on the farm.

“I think [Stardust] needed a project so they could get donations,” said Meador, who raises horses of his own. “Everything’s fine. She feeds her horses and waters her horses … If she’s dumb enough to raise 100 horses, that’s up to her.”

Meador admits the property is “kind of trashed now.” The horses are standing in quite a bit of mud and many “don’t carry good weight,” which he said is due to old age rather than neglect.

When asked about the veterinarians’ recommendations that the animals need improved care, Meador said, “That’s a decision the vets can’t make for the owner.”

“I find [Stardust] strange,” Meador said. “Why don’t you take care of your own lives and leave this woman alone?”

Stardust maintains the herd is too big for Bingham to care for by herself, and officials are turning a blind eye to the horses because they are receiving enough food and water to survive. The group is heading to Springfield on Wednesday to speak with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on behalf of the horses.

“We want to bring up the standard,” Kay said. “What is humane treatment? If you look up the dictionary definition, this is not humane. This is not brotherly love. What are we supposed to do as a community and a society?”

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