After abuse charges, NJ animal sanctuary gets helping hands
WATERFORD — The owners of two horse rescue operations are stepping in to help with the animals at Labrador Farms Equine Sanctuary, which has been accused by activists and state officials of neglect and abuse.
Caitlin Cimini, of Rancho Relaxo and Ashley DiFelice, from Twist of Fate Farm & Sanctuary in Pennsylvania, visited Sarah Rabinowitz at the Waterford farm after she was charged with multiple counts of animal cruelty and causing bodily harm to an animal.
South Jersey Horse Rescue founder Ellen Strack brought the situation to the attention of law enforcement.
"I witnessed approximately 68 horses, donkeys and mules in terrible condition, with bones sticking out, huge maggot-infested wounds, horses dragging their legs, bloody legs from fly bites. Scars from fly bites," Strack said.
Those specific allegations have not been addressed in any public statement by law enforcement. A statement from the Camden County Prosecutor's Office only addressed allegations of inadequate water and food.
Cimini said she wanted to know how Rabinowitz's farm got to this point as she and other rescues around the state had recommended Labrador for aging and injured horses.
"For Sarah to have been doing this for 20 years and only the past year or two people are starting to notice negative things — that tells you a lot. At one point Sarah was doing something good."
"Sarah is very overwhelmed. I know that she's nervous and she's scared and she should be. The authorities are involved, and they should be. She looked at both of us and said she's in over her head," Cimini said.
Cimini said part of the problem is that Rabinowitz finds it hard to say no to people who "show up asking for her to take their horses
"It was hard for her to say no. Over the years it's gotten worse and she knows."
Cimini says Rabinowitz said she would like to reduce the number of horses, donkeys and mules at the farm from 68 to somewhere between 30 and 40.
Cimini believes her gentle approach to the situation helped Rabinowitz to admit she had a problem to deal with rather than be defensive and reject help. Rabinowitz has agreed to surrender 10 horses to Rancho Relaxo and Twist of Fate.
"We asked Sarah to surrender the skinniest ones to us. We aren’t stopping here. We also want to help with the placement of four horses who originally belonged to Gerdas Equine Rescue Inc. but ended up at Labrador Hill because they were unadoptable."
Cimini said she is not sure how many employees and volunteers work at Labrador. She said the 62-year-old Rabinowitz was the only one she saw providing water for the horses and hauling feed around the facility.
"By the looks of it, it doesn't seem like she has a massive amount of people flooding through the gates to help."
Like Strack, Cimini said she has a large number of volunteers ready to move in, care for the animals and improve the facilities.
Cimini is open to working with Strack's volunteers and brought up to Rabinowitz the possibility of patching up their relationship.
"But I think the people behind (Strack) right now are angry and they're very emotional and that's not how we work. I can't have people join our team and are also going to judge Sarah the entire time," Cimini said.
Cimini said that her offer of help to Rabinowitz is not an endorsement.
"We know there's a problem. We are acknowledging that the horses need the help, some of them more than others [...] I'm not advocating for mob mentality," Cimini said.
"In these situation you have to remain neutral. If you're not, it gets wild and there's not trust that's built at all."