"Murphy, don't bite me," Chris Baringer, in a motherly tone, tells the 3-year-old brown colt nibbling on her arm.
Despite wandering chompers, Murphy is well-behaved -- and showing signs of recovery -- one month after being seized from a property at 5326 Kesslersville Road in Plainfield Township.
At first, Baringer, a humane police officer for Bucks and Montgomery counties, didn't have high hopes for Murphy's future. The horse had a leg wound that maggots were eating through. Bone was exposed.
"I thought it wasn't fixable," said Baringer, who has worked for Last Chance Ranch, a non-profit animal rescue in Richland Township, for 12 years. "But [Quakertown Veterinary Clinic] said, 'No, no. We can fix this.'"
Baringer when she and other staff members from Last Chance Ranch were called to Northampton County for a report of four horses running loose. A subsequent search of the property found a fenced-in area that appeared to be ill-suited for the caring of 11 animals -- a mixture of horses and mules.
There also was no source of clean water, and two horses needed immediate veterinary care.
Dominic Deflorio, 63, of Princeton, N.J., faces possible animal cruelty charges in the case.
According to an application for a search warrant on file at office, Officer Scott E. Zabriskie wrote that he “believes the seizure of the… two horses is necessary for their survival, as they require immediate veterinary care, of which the owner... is unwilling to provide."
Murphy's wound was likely caused by a kick from another horse, Baringer said. Surgery was scheduled, then canceled when the veterinarian got a closer look. Murphy's rear left leg had a deep bruise and his body was trying to rid itself of a section of bone that died.
While Murphy has "a great prognosis," according to Baringer, he will always be a companion horse, a non-ridden horse or pony that provides company and stability to a working horse.
A few stalls away from Murphy at Last Chance Ranch is the 20- to 30-year-old Annie. Her broken leg was an old injury that fused, according to staffer Jackie Burke.
Baringer said Annie to Last Chance Ranch. The vet determined she would not be able to carry the weight of a pregnancy without risking injury to her leg, however. The pregnancy, in its early stages, was aborted for her “health and safety,” Baringer said. Annie will also live out her days as a companion horse.
The other 13 horses and mules are also on the road to recovery. Some can be seen .
If Last Chance Ranch is awarded the horses, it may be difficult to find them new homes because of the amount of training needed, according to Baringer. And training is difficult because of the advanced age of some of the horses, she said.
Baringer estimated a cost of $300 per month to properly care for each horse, which includes feed, hay and farrier bills. Baringer estimates Last Chance Ranch will have spent about $30,000 in caring for the horses by the time the case heads to court.
Zabriskie said in late June he expected to file animal cruelty charges within two weeks against Deflorio. However, charges have yet to be filed, according to court records. Neither Deflorio or Zabriskie was available for comment.
"The reality of it is, if we’re awarded these horses, we won't be reimbursed for the care," Baringer said. "Neighbors are very adamant that the horses shouldn’t go back... We would love to have public support so we can take care of these guys."
Donations can be made via the ranch's secure website or by calling the ranch at 215-538-2510.
If you are unable to make a monetary donation, consider volunteering to groom, feed or lead a horse. Baringer said volunteers are always needed, and there is a lot someone can do, including office work and fund-raising.
This video tells the story of Last Chance Ranch and its work, which includes rescuing more than 500 horses over the past 10 years. The ranch is currently home to about 50 horses and 36 dogs. There are also cats and various farm animals.