Dozens of horses from across Georgia and the Southeast are missing.
The owners say they were duped into sending their beloved animals down the path to slaughter.
Channel 2 Consumer Investigator Jim Strickland found some of the horses were rescued just in time.
A veterinary student is accused of deceiving horse owners by offering their aging horses a new home at her pasture, but getting rid of the horses. Channel 2 Action News confirmed a small number of those animals are safe, but the evidence points to a cruel end for many of them.
“What is your worst fear?” Strickland asked horse owner Sarah Warren.
“That they went through a kill pen and went to slaughter,” Warren answered.
She made one of the toughest decisions a horse owner faces – to adopt out two of her animals, King and Grey Lady.
They are now two of more than 50 horses and other animals with whereabouts unknown. The owners entrusted the animals to a 23-year-old vet student named Fallon Blackwood.
“I was very upset and emotional to be finding them a home, but she put me at peace,” said Warren.
One owner gave Channel 2 Action News her Facebook string.
“I am in vet school and have been looking for a companion horse for my barrel horse… but I have room for more than one horse,” Fallon wrote.
Blackwood promised the horses would live out their days frolicking and being loved.
“I let her have them. I honestly did. That was my mistake,” said Celeste Rogers.
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She is one of the first and, numbers-wise, the most aggrieved. Having cut her acreage by 90-percent, she gave six horses to Blackwood to rehome.
“It’s shocking honestly that she managed to do this with so many people and it only just got caught onto a little while ago,” said Rogers.
An online stolen horse clearing house, Netposse.com, documents reports from more than 30 horse owners in five states. Half of them are in Georgia. All say Blackwood has refused or ignored requests to prove their animals are OK.
Pam Miller is the reports manager for Stolen Horse International, which operates the Netposse.com website. We asked Miller how likely it is that these horses ended up going to slaughter.
"I think it's probably pretty likely listening to the stories that have developed over these cases and some of the information that's come to light,” she said.
A Tennessee victim who chose not to go on camera sent us pictures of three Arabians turned over to Blackwood in mid-January. Only days later, the horses were paraded on a Facebook video at a Louisiana sales operation, commonly known as a kill pen.
For most horses, the kill pen is the last stop before being trucked 700 miles to the Mexican border with frequent 100-degree temperatures and no water. Undercover video shot by the welfare group Animals’ Angels shows the horses crowd and kick in large transports headed to slaughterhouses.
United States Department of Agriculture reports show so far this year, 18,000 horses were exported to Mexico for their meat.
“She had lied. She had no intention of doing what she said with the horses, any of them,” said Warren.
Authorities in Alabama arrested Blackwood in early April. She has since been extradited to North Carolina, the first state to charge her with a crime.
Blackwood would not say how horses entrusted to her wound up at the Louisiana kill pen, but we’ve learned more.
An Arabian rescue group saw those kill pen videos and paid to save those horses. The three horses are being rehomed in Colorado, Nevada and Florida.
Horse owner Teresa Leto rescued one of the horses. When asked what she thought about Blackwood did Leto said, “I think that she has sold her soul to the devil truthfully, you know, just for a dollar.”
Blackwood agreed to be extradited to North Carolina. She posted a $5,000 bond there on two charges of obtaining property under false pretenses. Blackwood’s next court appearance is scheduled for June 11.
Georgia horse owners Sarah Warren and Celeste Rogers each filed a police report, but there was no investigation.