North Whidbey horses attacked?

Horse owners in North Whidbey are being especially vigilant after mysterious injuries showed up on several of the large, gentle animals at two different farms.

“With the cats in Oak Harbor and the horses out here, I don’t know what’s going on,” said horse-owner Jerry Pfannenstiel, referring to the number of dead cats found in the city. “I don’t know if it’s people driving around or kids getting their kicks. I can’t believe someone would do something like that.”

Sometime Monday night, two of Tammy and Stewart Swenson’s horses were injured at their farm, Thumbelina’s Garden, on DeVries Road. They take in rescued animals — abused or neglected creatures — ranging from horses to pot-bellied pigs.

“They came here to be safe,” Tammy said, “but I couldn’t keep them safe and that’s what hurts me the most.”

A five-year-old gelding named Maximus and a pregnant mare, Autumn, shared a pasture together that night. Once during the night, Tammy said she heard a ruckus outside, but didn’t think much of it.

“The next morning, our barn boss came and said it looked like Jack the Ripper came through out there,” she said.

Both horses had unusual whip or scratch marks across their backs. Autumn was the most seriously injured, with what Tammy described as “blunt force trauma” on her head. Chunks of the mare’s hide were torn away from her face.

At first the Swensons thought a cougar could have attacked the horse, since the injuries were all on the backs and heads of the horses. The whip-like marks resemble claw marks. There was no damage to the animal’s legs, which meant a dog or coyote was not responsible.

The Swensons are sure that the two horses didn’t get into a fight with each other. They are both extremely gentle. Plus, a fight wouldn’t account for the whip marks on their backs.

For now, Tammy and Stewart aren’t certain what happened, but they believe it’s likely that a person is responsible for hurting the horses.

At a neighboring farm, JoDee Snyder said she experienced a similar situation two days before. At about 1 o’clock in the morning, three horses in an enclosure were startled by something and broke through a fence. She woke up, made sure they were OK and closed a second fence to keep them in.

Less than an hour later, the horse broke through another fence.

Snyder said the behavior was very unusual. “If they get spooked,” she said, “they usually just run to the other side of the fence. Our horses were running around all night.”

In the morning, Snyder discovered that the horses had mysterious whip-like marks on their backs.

Snyder said she isn’t certain whether the incident is related to what happened to the Swensons’ animals. But she said a neighbor saw a stranger walking through the pasture about two months ago. Also, she called the sheriff’s office four or five times this summer to report people making noise in a nearby woods.

Carol Barnes, the county’s animal control officer, investigated the Swensons’ injured horses, as did an an Island County deputy. The deputy determined that the injuries were likely caused by a fight between the two horses, according to the sheriff’s office.

Barnes, however, said she didn’t find any clear answers.

“We are very concerned about the safety and welfare of animals,” she said, “so it’s difficult that we’re not able to determine exactly what may have caused the injuries.”

Veterinarian Robert Moody also looked at the animal’s injuries. He said some of the wounds were consistent with a fight between two horses.

The other marks, he said, could be scratch marks from the horses scratching on buildings or fencing.

In Oak Harbor, cats have been the victims of mysterious injuries. City Animal Control Officer Terry Sampson said he’s investigated 11 dead cats this summer. Most of the felines were cut or gnawed in half.

Sampson and the police believe that coyotes are likely responsible. As development spreads, more and more coyotes are spotted in the city.

In fact, Sampson said an officer saw a coyote running through the middle of the city with a white cat in its mouth. The remains of that cats were never found.

Yet some residents continue to believe that a person is responsible for killing and cutting the cats. One woman, who didn’t want her name published, lost her cat, Ozzie. She said the top half of the feline was discovered, cut cleanly in half.

“I think they know it’s something else,” she said, referring to the police. “It’s just sick. I don’t want other people to lose their cats.”

But again, Sampson reminds people that the best way to keep their cats safe is to keep them inside. After all, it’s the law.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at or 675-6611.

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