Army vet searches for horses lost during Harvey

Tammy Toups is desperate to find her missing horses.

An Army veteran suffering from PTSD is searching for her missing therapy horses that were rescued or stolen from her Bevil Oaks home during Hurricane Harvey’s torrential flooding.

Tammy Toups said floodwaters rising to unexpected and unprecedented levels on the afternoon of Aug. 29 forced her and her husband to evacuate their home, with the couple ultimately wading through waist-deep water to board the airboat staffed by game wardens of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD).

“When it started to flood, we got the horses and put them on the front porch,” elevating them to a safer level and out of the water at the time, she said. “We didn’t really know what was fixin’ to hit us. We made a comfy place for them on the porch, and we thought it would be all right.”

But it wasn’t. As the water continued to rise, the Toups’ home began to flood. The porch also began to flood, with water rising high enough to touch the horses’ hooves.

And that’s about the time the game wardens arrived, said Toups. They came on a boat and spoke to her husband, Michael, telling him to get Tammy and their dogs so they could evacuate them. The horses, however, were to stay behind.

Tammy Toups said she was distraught but had no choice. The rain kept coming, and the water kept rising. It was leave or die, it seemed.

The Toups got their five large dogs, grabbed what necessities they could and boarded the rescue boat. They thought they would be able to come back for the horses, Toups said. But when they sent a friend with a boat to try to lead out the horses, Jefferson County deputies and emergency personnel told them they would not be allowed back into the neighborhood for their safety. She and daughter Kathryn Comisky reached out to several organizations helping rescue livestock, providing Toups’ address. She says she was told then “not to worry,” that experienced rescuers were evacuating people and animals, and they would be heading to her home to get her horses.

“I was told they would take them to Ford Park,” said Toups. “But they never made it.”

TPWD Game Warden Mike Boone said he was on the airboat that rescued the Toups and their dogs. He explained why he could not lead the horses out using the airboat.

“We would have been taking a big chance,” he said. “It would have posed a serious risk to the livestock and to the people on the boat. I feel for her, but we did what we could.

“We had hundreds of people to evacuate. We were on a mission to save lives.”

And that they did. Boone confirmed there were no human casualties of Harvey in Bevil Oaks.

Toups said she is more than hopeful that her horses made it out alive; she is convinced the horses were removed — with good reason.

“Some people say my horses drowned,” Toups lamented. “I feel pretty certain that they were rescued or taken. I believe someone came to my house and took them.”

Toups said she had secured her porch with a board, with one side of the board screwed in and the other side nailed to the wood near the steps. She described that someone had “backed out” the screws on the board using a screwdriver, likely to get the horses out during the flooding.

“I want to believe they were rescued and are being fostered somewhere,” Toups said, but so far she has had no luck finding them.

Toups has reached out to owners that assist people trying to reunite with pets and livestock; and she and others have posted photos on Facebook with a plea for their safe return or any information on the horses.

The missing horses, which, were animal rescues, were last seen Aug. 29 in Bevil Oaks on the porch of the Toups’ log-style home. Bronco is a red roan gelding with a strawberry blonde mane and tail. He has a white blaze and one blue-gray eye. He also has a scar shaped like a hot dog on his left shoulder from surgery and some scarring on his lower legs. Augustus is a sorrel gelding with a flaxen mane and tail. He has a “near perfect” blaze from under his bangs crossing to an angle over his nose and mouth, Toups described. He has “white socks” on his hind legs and “white boots” on his front legs, with three vertical lines on his right rear hoof.

Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deputy Marcus McLellan confirmed that Toups’ horses were not at Ford Park, and Game Warden Boone said he has called every ASPCA-affiliated organization involved in animal rescue during Harvey, but to no avail.

“We don’t know where the horses went to or even if they got out alive,” Boone said. “We had so many different teams out there and so many people performing rescues, there’s just no telling. They very well could have been stolen … or rescued.”

McLellan said of the 160 animals at Ford Park, all but 16 have been reunited with their owners and the ones that were not claimed are being fostered back to health. He indicated that a detective is working on the Toups case and has been in contact with livestock organizations to try to find Toups’ horses.

Toups said her daughter has been “working diligently” to get the word out about her mom’s missing horses. Comisky knows first-hand how dear her mother holds them.

“She calls them her ‘boys,’” said Comisky. “She is really close with them, and they help her cope with her PTSD. I have been posting their pictures to every rescue site and every livestock group I can find, hoping they will share it or that someone will recognize them and let us know where they are.”

Toups just wants her horses back, no questions asked. She says she relies on her equine companions heavily for support and especially needs them now as Harvey hasn’t been the only tragedy this wife, mother and veteran has recently suffered.

“In the midst of all this, my uncle died,” she shared. “It is beyond devastating. Every day is harder. I keep thinking, ‘When is this going to end?’ I just want my boys home.”

An anonymous donor is offering $5,000 for the safe return of the horses. Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Bronco or Augustus is asked to call Tammy Toups at (409) 504-0161 or (409) 782-2017 or Kathryn Comisky at (409) 454-0707.

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