PELHAM — The owner of an elderly horse said he's stuck between a rock and a hard place as he scrambles to find a new home for the animal.
Ralph Barrett III said he can't afford the $600 "surrender fee" for 21-year-old Rusty at a nearby animal shelter, and must vacate his property by the end of the month.
Meanwhile, neighbors worried about the horse's wellbeing have run afoul of Barrett as well as Animal Control Officer Allison Caprigno. At least one neighbor has been issued a criminal trespass order after being sighted on the 36 Russell Drive property at nighttime feeding the horse, according to Caprigno.
She said Barrett is properly feeding Rusty, noting that "it's a sensitive issue and I know people want to help."
"But this is a senior horse with a sensitive system. It can be very dangerous to mess with his diet, especially in the wintertime," Caprigno said.
Caprigno stressed that no abuse charges have been filed against Barrett and that Rusty's appearance is typical of a horse his age.
Neighbors Pauline and Richard Aucoin, whose Leonard Drive driveway is just feet away from Rusty's corral, said they've grown increasingly concerned about the condition of the quarter horse mix.
"We really didn't want to get involved, but the situation kept getting worse," Pauline Aucoin said. "A lot of us have reached out to help. For me, I'm right here and it's right outside my window. I can't help but see what's happening."
Rusty used to have another horse living with him in the pen behind Barrett's home, but that horse died last year. Barrett, a former Marine who works for the town's highway department, said he was going through a divorce and only his former wife was living in the house at the time.
Local animal control officials said the deceased horse likely suffered a stroke rather than starvation, as some of the neighbors contend.
Several neighbors said they were worried about Rusty being left outside most days, though he does have a small shelter inside his pen.
"There's always someone out by the fence feeding him carrots," Richard Aucoin said.
Fellow neighbors Robert and Kathleen Hayes have taken the matter a step further.
Robert Hayes said he and his wife have been purchasing hay and grain for Rusty.
"All I have to say is, Rusty needs a new home now," Hayes said this week. "It's very cold out there and he has no blanket."
Ideally, a private home would be the best thing for Rusty, Caprigno said, a place where the gentle creature can live out his days as a companion or light-riding horse.
Finding such a home is easier said than done, however.
"Unfortunately, in these economic times, there aren't many takers," Caprigno said.
Robert Hayes said he'll continue to keep Rusty in his prayers.
"I've seen a lot in my 54 years in this neighborhood, but this one just breaks my heart," he said. "And I fear time is running out for this horse."
Anyone wishing to give Rusty a new home is encouraged to contact Barrett by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Pelham Animal Control at 635-2411.