The SPCA discovered a herd of approximately 18 abandoned horses Friday evening on a property off of Paris Valley Road in unincorporated San Ardo. One horse in dire need of medical care was rescued that day.
But when investigators returned for the other horses on Saturday, the animals had been removed from the property.
Dawn Fenton, community outreach coordinator for the SPCA for Monterey County, said tips from the public have given investigators a lead in the case, although the horses have not yet been located.
"We think we may know where the horses have been moved," Fenton said today. "Hopefully the investigation will continue down a good path."
SPCA personnel went to the San Ardo property on Friday in response to a call from an anonymous tipster who was concerned about the horses, Fenton said. The SPCA responds to every one of the thousands of potential abuse or neglect tips it receives every year, she explained.
When the herd was first found, about six of the horses were in serious need of medical care, Fenton said. Almost all of the animals were seriously dehydrated because the property's well was not functional.
"They had no water whatsoever on the property," Fenton said.
The most ill of the horses - a young, emaciated mare that could barely walk - was taken to the Steinbeck Country Equine Clinic in Salinas. Authorities have affectionately dubbed her "Paris," and Fenton reported that she is continuing to respond to treatment.
"She's not quite out of the woods yet, but heading in that direction," Fenton said of the horse. "The emergency vet said that had she not gotten that treatment, she most likely would have passed away. It's a good thing we got to her when we did."
The SPCA returned to the property on Saturday morning with a dozen bales of hay and a 3,000-gallon tank of water, planning to rescue the remaining horses. But when they arrived, the horses were gone.
Though neighbors have been interviewed, investigators have not found the horses' owners, Fenton said. She added that the SPCA is "99 percent sure" the house was in foreclosure based on a letter it obtained from the holding company, but that has not been confirmed with the county recorder's office.
Fenton said that when the horses went missing, rescuers were "very worried about them" because at least four were "not quite as bad as Paris, but headed that way."
"We definitely had planned to bring them to safety this week," she said. "Hopefully we can find those horses very soon."
The SPCA is still offering a $5,000 reward for any information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for the mistreatment of the horses.
Anyone with information on the case is encouraged to call the organization's humane investigations department at (831) 373-2631 or (831) 422-4721, ext. 213, or file a report online at www.spcamc.org. All reports are confidential.