On a sunny farm just outside Kfar Saba, the sweet smell of hay filled the air as lustrously groomed horses walked about the grounds and heartily chomped on their morning feed.

The farm, an oasis surrounded by cement walls in an undisclosed location, houses not only private mares and stallions, but also 15 undergoing rehabilitation through the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Israel (SPCA).

Just adjacent to the horses, who intermittently played with the farm’s resident dogs, a fenced-off corral provides an outdoor playpen for nine donkeys and four goats from the SPCA.

The animals have found temporary refuge at this shelter and at two other private farms near Kiryat Gat and Mount Hermon, while renovations occur at the SPCA stables in south Tel Aviv.

Afterward, 25 horses and donkeys from the three facilities will be able to return to Tel Aviv, while the remaining 20 will require adoption.

In the meantime, the exact locations of the three shelter farms must remain secret, as the many thieves interested in acquiring the animals for exploitation and money would target the site and posed a security threat, SPCA spokesman Gadi Vitner explained.

“All the time they try – even here [in Tel Aviv] – to break in to steal horses,” he told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

While SPCA has also installed 24-hour video-cameras on the private shelters where the horses reside, the security is not nearly as impenetrable as that of the flagship SPCA site in south Tel Aviv.

There are many SPCA organizations around the country, but have been unaffiliated with each other since the 1980s.

The Tel Aviv site, the official SPCA headquarters of Israel, has been operating since 1927 and is the only one with official ties to the international umbrella organization.

In total, the Tel Aviv SPCA has saved roughly 500 horses, finding homes for many and ending up forced to put some of them down, according to Vitner.

“Usually, all of these come from abuse,” he said. Primarily, the horses hail from the streets of Yaffo, Ramle and Lod, where peddlers have used them, illegally, to haul junk and metal, or sell fruits and vegetables.

“A horse can work, but give him good treatment,” Vitner said.

“They come here and they collapse in the stables. They are very strong, but delicate animals.”

One of the Kfar Saba horses, an elegant black horse named Madonna, had adopted three other horses into her custody, and they trailed behind her as she moved from silo to silo and munched on hay.

The horses enjoy two hours of free time in the morning and two hours again in the evening, when they are free to roam the grounds and eat to their heart’s desire.

“The cafeteria is open,” the owner of the farm said.

The horses sleep outside in the fields during the warmer seasons and head to the stables when the temperature begins to drop. In one corner of the field, an emaciated mother and son pair stood bent side-by-side over a feeding bin, gobbling up their hay.

The owner, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the location, has been operating the facility for three years, primarily providing residence and services to privately-owned horses. He has been associated with the SPCA in one capacity or another over the past decade.

On average, the owner explained, it costs about NIS 1,500 per month to feed a horse, NIS 300 per month to care for his nails, NIS 450 per year to cover dental expenses and NIS 300 per year for vaccines.

In the current economy such costs have become prohibitive to most people, and it is therefore increasingly challenging to find homes for the regal animals. One treatment for colic alone will cost a minimum of NIS 1,500, and surgeries can reach about NIS 25,000.

“There are people who take them and don’t realize the responsibility,” the owner said. “It’s not just a dog.”

SPCA is paying the shelter owners NIS 15,000 per month for the food necessary to nourish the 15 horses and nine donkeys, according to Vitner.

During a visit to SPCA headquarters that morning, prior to tour of the Kfar Saba farm, Vitner showed the Post the site for the new stables, in the middle of the fortified location.

The old stables had not undergone renovation in six years and contained completely dilapidated feeding sheds, many of which were filled at the moment from floor to ceiling with sacks of cat kibble.

Nearby the stables were about 150 dogs, of all shapes and sizes, that had been rescued from the streets, barking at passersby from their cages.

“It’s a jail,” Vitner said, noting that five dogs had arrived at the center that morning alone. “They’re not supposed to be there. They’re not criminals.” Adjacent to the dog kennels are cubicles filled with cats, as well as a fenced-in zone with quacking ducks, roosters and even a peacock.

After morning tours of both the SPCA headquarters in south Tel Aviv and the shelter near Kfar Saba, Vitner brought the Post on a driving tour through Yaffo to see if any illegal horse operators were peddling in the streets.

While riding horses and operating horse-drawn carts or carriages is illegal in the city of Tel Aviv-Yaffo, the law is not always effectively enforced, Vitner explained.

Not only did the odyssey lead to a horse sighting, but attached to the horse was a carriage with two passengers who were racing the horse down the seaside street and laughing all the while.

“We stopped calling the city – we call the police,” Vitner said.

One of the 15 horses in Kfar Saba, a gray beauty named Olive, has already found a home, but the others remain in jeopardy as SPCA workers struggle to find them caretakers.

“The bottom line is we need help from the public,” Vitner said.

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