GATES, Tenn. -- Six malnourished horses found in a Gates, Tenn., pasture are gone, leaving a Jackson, Tenn., horse rescue group wondering if they're OK.
The founder of Redemption Road Rescue said three of the horses were so underweight, their ribs were showing.
Members of the rescue group are upset because the owner of the horses hasn't been charged with neglect.
The Lauderdale County Sheriff said he's investigating, but the founder of Redemption Road Rescue said her group isn't getting any answers to their questions.
"We received several phones calls from residents from this county, reporting the horses and their condition," said Lori Collins.
Collins, founder of Redemption Road Rescue, said she didn't realize what bad a shape three of six horses were in, until she saw them with her own eyes.
The pictures posted on the group's Facebook page show two adult horses and a pony that Collins described as "extremely emaciated."
"Their bones were protruding, their backbone, the top line was protruding probably three or four inches. their hip bones, there was one that was extremely weak," said Collins.
Wendy Conrad and her family live in Gates and take their daily walk next to the pasture where the horses stayed.
Conrad said they were upset to notice how sickly the horses were looking.
"What bothered us about it is us seeing their ribs like we did. And we knew something wasn't right." said Conrad.
Collins and other members of Redemption Road Rescue came to Gates to get medical care for the horses, which are owned by Mark Crook, an investigator with the Ripley Tennessee Police Department.
Collins said Lauderdale County authorities, including the Gates Police Department, haven't been cooperative and she believes the agencies are protecting Crook because he's a police officer.
"Their verbal disrespect toward us and our organization, makes me believe that they are covering up for this officer, " said Collins.
But in a written statement, Lauderdale County Sheriff Steve Sanders disagreed with Collins.
The statement issued by Sanders said in part, "...this case is no different than any other case involving animal abuse. It will be investigated just like any other and go through the proper channels..."
The sheriff said the case could be turned over to Attorney General Mike Dunavant if a medical report from J.C. Dupree of the University of Tennessee finds evidence of abuse.
Tommy Willette owns the ten acres of land where the horses were staying, and said he and his family have been getting threats from people who think he's responsible for the condition of the horses.
He provides water, but the horse's owner must provide food and medical attention.
Willette said he noticed weeks ago that Crook's horses didn't look well and tried to contact him.
"These animals were in need of medical care and they need to be fed. And we got some response that were positive, some negative and then no response at all," said Willette.
Willette said he and other members of the public did try and feed the horses.
Melissa Floyd, assistant director of Redemption Road Rescue, said efforts of a few good people was the difference between life and death for the animals.
"And I promise you if that had not happened the horses would have died. They were in that bad of condition. So, thankfully the good people of Gates, Tenn., rallied and made and attempt to save the horses," said Floyd.
The horses were removed from the pasture in Gates sometime over the weekend, and Collins isn't sure where they are or what their condition is now.
The Lauderdale County Sheriff said the horses have been re-located by J.C. Dupree with the University of Tennessee Martin Extension Office.
The sheriff said Crook did not remove the horses from the property.
No charges have been filed against Crook at this time.