GROVE – Four horses were allegedly starved to death in what investigators are calling the worst case of animal cruelty they’ve ever seen in Delaware County.

According to Deputy Sheriff Jim Puckett, he received a call on March 8 concerning horses that had been found dead in a corral located at 27158 S. 4490 Rd., west of Bernice. When he arrived he found three dead horses in a dirt corral. A bay gelding with his head in a hay manger, approximately 6 years old, a paint mare, approximately 6 years old and an 11 year old paint mare.

A bay mare, approximately 16 years old was also in the corral, but was too weakened from lack of food and water to get to it’s feet. Deputy Puckett noticed a fifth horse, a sorrel mare, in a nearby field that was not in the condition of the other horses, but was noticeably undernourished.

Deputy Puckett called Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Berry to assist with the call.

He then called a veterinarian to the location and made a call to the Delaware County District Attorney’s office in Jay to report his findings as well.

Dr. Vic Boyer, a veterinarian from the Fairland area, told the officers that the three horses had been starved to death and had been dead approximately 4 or 5 days. Boyer added that horses could only go without water for about 10 days before it started affecting them.

Boyer was forced to put the fourth horse to sleep in order to keep it from suffering any further.

The fifth horse was transported to a safe place and put under quarantine for 10 days.

The officers made contact with the owners, Linda Gale Martin, 53 of Afton, and her mother Ada Martin, 73 of Bernice. The women told the investigators that they had last seen the horses in the pasture about three weeks before, but had not been there to check on them since.

They said that three of the horses belonged a deceased family member, and they each owned a horse, were responsible for the care of all five, but didn’t know the horses had been put in the corral.

Deputy Berry said there was no water or feed. He said the horses were eating the wooden boards on the shed attached to the corral and had eaten bark from trees that were close to the enclosure. A large bathtub was in the pen, but was dry.

“This was the worst case of animal abuse that I have ever seen in this area,” said Deputy Berry.

The two women could face charges of five felony counts of cruelty to animals.

The case in under investigation by the Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s office in Jay.