KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. — A horse adopted by Jon Stewart and his wife hadn't been shot more than 100 times by a paintball gun as previously reported but had been used as a canvas for children's finger-painting parties, its former owner said.
Doreen Weston said the horse, a white mare named Lily, was never injured. Her comments came the day the former "Daily Show" host's wife, Tracey Stewart, adopted the horse at a facility in Kennett Square. The Stewarts partnered with Farm Sanctuary last year to open an animal sanctuary at their farm in Middletown, New Jersey.
Lily was found seemingly abandoned at an auction stable in New Holland in March. Police said she was covered in paint and was extremely sore to the touch.
The abused-horse tale soon became a cause celebre, but the horse's previous owner said the story relayed by the Lancaster County SPCA that it was shot by paintballs is wrong. Tracey Stewart, meanwhile, said what happened to Lily shows too many people think animals are disposable.
Weston, who owns Smoke Hollow Farm in Pittstown, New Jersey, said the horse is about 35 years old and was acquired in the late 1990s. She said she wanted the horse euthanized because its quality of life was so poor because of deteriorating eyesight and bad teeth and she contacted a horse dealer to take it in February. She said she assumed the dealer would euthanize the horse but didn't tell him to.
The dealer, Phillip Price, of East Providence, Rhode Island, was convicted last week in New Holland of animal cruelty and other charges related to transporting a horse in poor condition. Price is on probation in Rhode Island after pleading no contest to animal cruelty in July, court records show. Messages left with Price's attorney weren't immediately returned Wednesday.
Weston contends the horse loved the kids' attention during the finger-painting sessions, saying it was "like a massage." She said she let officials know early on of the finger-painting but they let the paintball story persist.
"I consider myself a respectable horse person and animal lover," Weston said.
The Lancaster County SPCA's director, Susan Martin, said she doesn't find Weston credible. She said Weston should have come forward weeks ago.
Martin said she's uncertain where the paintball injuries theory originated but it made sense because the horse flinched every time it was touched where it was splattered with paint.
Weston supplied photos of a February finger-painting party with a stained horse that looks like Lily and emails between her and her veterinarian about a treatment plan for the horse's eye issues.
After Lily was found at the New Holland stables, she was cared for by Penn Vet's New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, where Dr. Rose Nolen-Walston said an assessment showed the horse was malnourished and in need of emergency intensive eye care. The horse's right eye had to be removed.
Tracey Stewart said many people disregard animals when they can't make money off them or no longer need them.
"Probably what I'm more struck by is understanding that a lot of times people's relationship to animals is that they are disposable," she said, adding what constitutes humane treatment is changing. "And I think Lily's story will be a big part of telling why that's so necessary and important."