WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES TO FOLLOW
UPDATE: Charges have been laid.
UPDATE #2: Property owner Michael Cheung has confirmed that an additional 10 dead horses were discovered buried on his property over the weekend, bringing the total count to 13 dead horses.
A farm on Vandorf Road in Stouffville, Ontario was the scene of a shocking OSPCA investigation on May 9th. There were 7 dead horses on site and the remaining 15 were determined emaciated by the attending veterinarian.
“We have an active investigation at a horse farm in York Region after receiving a concern about animals on the property,” confirmed an OSPCA spokesperson. “The horses are under the care of a veterinarian and their welfare is our top priority. As this is an ongoing investigation, we can’t share further details at this time to maintain the integrity of the case.”
Michael Cheung stated that he purchased the property last July and rented the barn to Lee, Jason, Michael, and Victoria Small operating as Speedsport Stables in September. “They gave me the impression that they were trustworthy and we had a good relationship,” explained Cheung. “I even had them over to my house for dinner.”
But the relationship soon soured. Lee told Cheung in late November that he was going to be late with December’s rent. “We had become good friends so I didn’t think anything of it. No money arrived in December but in late January Jason gave me two post-dated cheques. When the first cheque bounced I didn’t bother to try the second one.”
Cheung first alerted the OSPCA about the horses in mid-April when the basement tenants in his house pointed out how bad the situation was. “I’m not an animal person – I’ve never even had a fish,” acknowledged Cheung who said that he didn’t go into the barn. “I feel very stupid now not knowing what was going on but I didn’t know what to look for.” Cheung confirmed that the OSPCA did come to the farm and posted a note on the barn door for Jason to call.
Cheung was concerned when the OSPCA didn’t follow-up with him but didn’t know what else to do. “The horses hadn’t been outside all winter. They were caged up like chickens in their own filth.”
A few weeks later, on May 5th, Cheung’s tenant once again pointed out that something wasn’t right. After observing Jason Small spend just 15 minutes tending to the horses one day, the tenant explained to Cheung that it wasn’t possible to care for that number of horses in such a short period. This time Cheung decided to lock the Small’s off his property and contacted the OSPCA again.
The OSPCA arrived and advised Cheung to get a vet as he was now responsible for the care of the animals on his property. Cheung contacted Oscar Calvete, DVM, an experienced vet who has worked for years at leading thoroughbred racing farms. Calvete said he was saddened by the state of the horses he observed in his evaluation, “The five yearlings looked like weanlings, they were so small and weak.”
Cheung also contacted Jason Small so he could be present for the vet’s inspection. “Jason pulled me to the side and told me I didn’t want the [OSPCA] inspector here because she was going to see that the horses had coyote disease and the property would be quarantined for months,” Cheung recounted. He later learned that there is no such disease and believes that it was a ploy by Small to avoid further investigation.
Despite the condition of the horses, and the discovery of a dead horse in a trailer on the property, the OSPCA instructed Cheung to permit Jason Small to remove one of the horses. “Jason said he was going to take a horse to Woodbine for a race,” said Cheung but before the horse could be moved, Woodbine officials confirmed that the Small’s are banned from the racetrack.
The same day, area neighbours were becoming aware of the problem and many were quick to offer food and help for the horses.
“There was no food or hay on the property,” noted one observer at the farm that didn’t want to be named. “There were some corn stalks, that was it.”
“Having the community come together and help the horses was beautiful,” commented another neighbour who also didn’t want to be named. “The rest is just unbearably sad.”
“My neighbours have come to help with time and resources,” said Cheung. “We are trying to revive all the animals. Without their help I would not know what to do.”
The vet and the OSPCA returned last week to investigate further at which time they discovered two more dead horses in a paddock. One had been there for some time and the other had died recently. This past weekend four more horses were discovered in a shallow pit elsewhere on the property.
This is not the first time the Small’s have been accused of neglecting animals. According to a news article from 2011 on NJ.com, Jason Small was charged with theft and bail was set at $25,000. The investigation into the theft revealed several neglected horses that had been in Small’s care. Another report on RipoffReport.com accuses the family of lying about owning a barn and multiple car dealerships.
“They have other operations in the province,” said Cheung. “This information has to get out there so they can be stopped.”
The OSPCA is responsible for investigating animal abuse in the province of Ontario and have the authority to pursue criminal charges.
Note: In a previous version of this story the farm had been listed as being in Aurora, it is in Stouffville.
Here are some additional photos of the terrible conditions and neglected animals discovered at the farm: