Abuse of any kind should never be tolerated, but when innocent animals are the victims, the aftermath of inhumane mistreatment is particularly heartbreaking. David, Victoria, and Jason Small have pleaded guilty to brutally mistreating and neglecting their nearly 30 horses between April 1st and 22nd of last year.  It was reported that 15 starving horses were found on their rented Stouffville, Ontario farm, while the decomposing corpses of 13 others suggest that countless others did not survive the abuse.

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Animal welfare advocates packed the Provincial Offences Court to witness the family's admission of guilt, heckling them and hissing "rot in hell" as they walked by.  The family was charged last May, and the sentencing hearing would be held next month, the Toronto Sun reports.

Based on the gruesome findings of the case's agreed statement of facts, the Small family operated Speedsport Stables in Stouffville, which they had rented back in August of 2017 from a man named Michael Cheung.  They had deceived Cheung into believing they were thoroughbred horse breeders, allegedly manipulating him to split the cost of three young horses of which they had zero ownership.

When the family stopped paying their full rent in December of 2017, an investigation was launched by the Ontario Society for the Protection of Animals in the spring of the following year.  Upon visiting the farm, the agency found nothing unusual.  It wasn't until Cheung attempted to lock the Smalls out of the farm for failing to pay rent that he discovered a revolting scene of abuse and neglect on his property. 

Please note that the details of the case are disturbing and may be difficult to read.

The statement of facts confirmed that the corpse of one horse was found hidden in a trailer, and another 14 starved horses and a pony were discovered barely alive.  The horses' stalls were overflowing with urine and manure, and insufficient supplies of food and water.  The poor horses were so emaciated that they’d begun gnawing at the wood off of the fence posts.

12 more carcasses were revealed when a suspicious mound was identified by a neighbour's dog.  When the corpses were exhumed, a number of the bodies were still bloody.

The OSCPA announced the charges in a news release, describing the horses' "thin body condition, with ribs, hips and spine easily visible on many of the animals." Local equine veterinarian Dr. Oscar Calvete said that in his 35 years in practice, he "never had the opportunity to witness horses in such bad condition."

Even worse, this isn't the Small family's first time being accused of animal mistreatment.  Correspondingly, animal advocates are calling for a ban to forbid the family from ever owning animals in the future.  Sid Freeman, a lawyer and equestrian, explained "It was heartbreaking what happened to these horses. There is grief about what happened and we are also angry because we understand the trauma of what they went through."  Freeman is involved in the coordination of a community victim impact statement. 

While the Smalls' defence lawyer, Calvin Barry, is seeking a fine as punishment for the family's misdemeanours, Crown attorney Thompson Hamilton is hoping for a much harsher sentence of 90 days in jail and a lifetime ban on owning livestock.

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So far, an online petition includes the signatures of over 83,000 supporters who are demanding that the Smalls receive an appropriately severe sentence.  According to one animal rights supporter, Lynn Perrier, who also happens to be the founder of the animal advocacy group Reform Advocates for Animal Welfare, "The courts have been too dismissive with animal abuse cases.  Traditionally, all they get is a slap on the wrist and we don’t want that to happen this time."

*Cover photo used for illustrative purposes only.

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