The story of the emaciated thoroughbred horses removed from a Niagara County horse farm took a sad turn early Friday, when 8-month-old Black Jack died in his stall at his rescuer's barn.
"His heart just gave out," said Judith Miller, a trauma nurse who had taken custody of the horse last weekend.
Black Jack, who suffered from anemia, fluid in the lungs and a heart murmur, took a turn for the worse Thursday, and Miller knew late that day that he probably wasn't going to make it through the night.
Miller stayed with the colt all night long. She went into her house to get some coffee, and when she came back out to the barn at about 2:30 a.m., he had died.
"I sat down right next to him and cried," she said. "You just feel like somebody punched you in the stomach."
Miller was consoled only by the fact that so much had been done for Black Jack to try to bring him back to health.
"He was fighting a losing battle," she said. "We did everything we could. We had him on penicillin, blood builders and on certain grains. But he was just so weak. He didn't have any fight left in him."
Following the horse's death at the Newstead barn, about a dozen members of the Akron Volunteer Fire Company helped remove the remains.
Black Jack was one of what are now believed to be eight thoroughbred race horses rescued last weekend from a horse farm in the Town of Somerset.
The horses were owned by SGS Bloodstock Corp., a company that raised and raced horses and was co-owned by Candice Starkweather and Julie Walker, both of Niagara County. The women had tried to sell the horses, according to an attorney for one of them.
But after Starkweather filed for bankruptcy in late October, approximately a dozen horses were caught up in the bankruptcy proceedings as a valuable asset, worth roughly $350,000. When the bankruptcy trustee gave his approval for them to be given away, Starkweather called Steven Nelson, owner of Nelson Feeds in Akron, who put the rescue into motion.
As she mourns the loss of her yearling, Miller is demanding that some action be taken, either criminally or civilly.
"There has got to be a way to put an end to such abuse," she said. "Nobody's getting charged. Nobody's getting hurt by this."
No police agency had been involved in the case at the time of the rescue. But an animal-control officer from a nearby town called the State Police at Lockport on Friday morning, following The News report of the horses' plight on Thursday.
"At this point, it's in the preliminary stages," State Police Sgt. Larry Brauer said of the investigation Friday afternoon. "We'll get to the bottom of it, but there's a lot of work to do."
Brauer said he had a call in to the Niagara County district attorney's office. He also was trying to talk to all the people involved in the rescue.
One person familiar with the state's Agriculture and Markets Law said that such a case could lead to cruelty charges, for failure to provide proper sustenance to an animal. That could be a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the district attorney's interpretation, this person said.
While the police conduct their investigation, Miller's thoughts are with the surviving horses. In response to questions from the public, she said people could send donations to her at the Lazy J Ranch and Rescue, P.O. Box 246, Akron, NY 14001.
"I will set up a fund for the remaining horses or for legal fees to press civil charges against these people," she said.