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Horse rescue has to pony up after theft

Personally I don’t recommend following a criminal lifestyle, but if you do, here’s a small piece of advice.

If you’re going to steal something, don’t steal something that you have to feed. It could trip you up.

In late January, late on the 24th or early the 25th, someone got into the Chocolate Box horse rescue operation, which is in the middle of nowhere in the northeast corner of Allen County, and took two horses.

Whoever took the horses had to have had access to a horse trailer, but they apparently didn’t know a lot about horses.

Vaunetta Barnhill runs the Chocolate Box, operating out of a pretty worn-out barn. The people who took the two horses picked out the two prettiest ones in the place, she said, a palomino and an old mare. The problem was that they also took two of the most broken-down horses in the place.

The palomino isn’t that old, but it was neglected when it was young and its growth was stunted, and it has problems with its immune system. It gets sick easily when the weather changes.

The other horse has arthritis. The horse rescue’s veterinarian did manage to come up with an effective pain management regimen for the horse, though, so it can get around.

“You could look at the mare and tell there was something seriously wrong,” Barnhill said.

Barnhill and Chocolate Box volunteer Chrissy Laur suspect the horses spent at least two days cooped up in a horse trailer, possibly getting fed nothing.

Later, the people who took the horses rented space in a barn, where the horses stayed for about a week, but there was practically no food for the horses.

The owner of the barn got concerned, concerned enough that she bought some feed for the horses herself and then started, “calling around,” police said. That’s when she learned that two horses had been reported stolen from the Chocolate Box, police said.

It wasn’t too long before a DeKalb County sheriff’s deputy, Chocolate Box volunteer Chrissy Laur, the barn’s owner and two people who had rented the barn for the horses were all in the same place.

Laur identified the horses as being from the Chocolate Box, and they were in sorry shape. They hadn’t been fed regularly and hadn’t received needed medication.

A juvenile was taken into custody on an unrelated charge, but no charges have been filed yet in connection with the theft of the horses. DeKalb County Detective Brian Springer said an investigation is continuing, but at this point nothing has been turned over to the DeKalb County prosecutor.

The story might be over for the Chocolate Box and its horses, but it’s not a happy ending.

Technically, Barnhill said, the horses aren’t worth anything – and weren’t worth taking – so in theory the Chocolate Box suffered no loss. But Barnhill had to hire someone with a horse trailer to pick up the horses in another county and return them home, and that costs about $2 a mile.

Now the animals, which went with little food and without their medications for nearly two weeks, have to be stabilized all over again, Barnhill said.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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