Animal cruelty officers hope DNA testing will help find the former owner of three mutilated horses found this week at New Holland Sales Stables.
Someone used a caustic or acidic substance to obliterate identifying tattoos on the inner lips of the thoroughbred horses, according to veterinarian Dr. James Holt, who works for the auction house.
The procedure would have been “pretty painful,” Holt said, and was likely done to conceal the former owner’s identity.
It isn’t yet clear where the horses came from, he said.
North American racehorses must have the tattoo, Holt explained. In some cases, he said, the owner would face penalties from the racetrack where the horses were penned for sending them to slaughter.
Because the horses were likely too old for racing, Holt said the owner probably wouldn’t have faced any penalties at all. Now, however, the Pennsylvania SPCA hopes to file cruelty charges against the person.
The mares were turned over to the rescue group on Monday, PSPCA spokeswoman Gillian Kocher said.
“We are investigating the case of intentional mutilation, which we believe was done to obscure the identities of these horses,” Kocher said. “We are providing DNA samples to determine the IDs.”
Anyone with information about the horses is asked to call the PSPCA’s cruelty hotline at 1-866-601-7722.
Kocher said owners of the New Holland Sales Stables contacted the Humane Society of the United States after discovering the disfigurements. The Humane Society referred the case to the PSPCA.
Similar cases have been reported elsewhere in Pennsylvania, she said.
The horses, Kocher said, are stable and should not suffer long-term effects from the injuries. The horses — which range in age from 12 to 18 — will likely be available for adoption after the investigation is complete.
Holt said the horses “were eating and drinking, and they appeared to be in otherwise good health,” and he agrees they should make a full recovery.
Holt said any discussion of the former owner’s motive is premature.
“It’s possible the person was obscuring the ID simply because they didn’t want to have the horses identified,” he said. “You can still identify them through DNA, but it takes weeks instead of minutes.”
Racehorse owners might try to get around track regulations that prohibit sending horses to slaughter because it is costly to keep or rehome them, Holt said.
“It’s becoming a more common issue,” he said. “A lot of horses slip through the cracks. ... I’ve seen thoroughbred horses where the tattoo was carved out with a knife for the same purpose.”