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ONALASKA, Wash. Police say a horse owner in Lewis County could face animal cruelty charges. Neighbors noticed one of her horses was severely neglected, and contacted police. But help arrived too late.

Tuesday night, Hailey Nelson arrived horse trailer in tow, with every intention of taking the law into her own hands and launching a rescue operation.

Last weekend, she spotted four horses across the street from her family's cabin in Onalaska. One of them was a young foal, who's halter had been left on so long and so tight, it was embedded in its skin.

I noticed it was freshly bleeding because how hard the bolts on her face were being pushed in, said Nelson. It smells like death, 'cause she was rotting.

Nelson, who owns horses herself, said it was hard to bear. I have a 14 month old foal at home, and just seeing the age comparison, knowing it could be stopped ...

She had to do something, so she called police.

Kim Kune, an investigator from Pasado's Safe Haven, also came out to check on the horses.

This is a young horse, probably 10 months old, the halter was put on and the horse was left, said Kune. As this horse was grown the halter is now buried in the face.

But by the time authorities arrived Tuesday, only the three adult horses remained. Apparently, the woman who owns the horses had the foal put down before police arrived.

A spokesperson for the owner tells KING 5 that the owner checked the halter a month ago and it was fine. When she tried to remove it last night, the horse lashed out violently. She felt she had no choice but to have it put down.

While leaving a horse in such a state of neglect is illegal, Lewis County Sheriff's deputies say the owner has every right to put her horse down as long as she wasn't trying to destroy evidence.

The three other horses appear in decent shape, one of them appears to be pregnant.

Fearing history will repeat itself, Nelson plans on contacting the owner and offering to take the horses off her hands.

I will take care of it on my own if that's all it takes, says Nelson.

Lewis County Prosecutor Michael Golden said he is waiting until investigation results are received from the Lewis County Sheriff s Office and will make a decision about possible animal cruelty charges.

The grotesque nature of the animal s injuries and subsequent suffering is appalling. Charging decisions will be made as soon as we determine who all is responsible for injuries sustained by the foal and if other animals are in danger, he said.

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