USA TODAY NETWORK Jeremy Cox, The (Salisbury, Md.) Daily Times

CHINCOTEAGUE ISLAND, Va. — A maintenance worker’s discovery Wednesday of the remains of a Chincoteague pony in the same pen where it had last been seen five weeks earlier proved the foal had not been stolen after all.

For weeks, the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company and local police directed public attention to a mysterious white pickup towing a horse trailer that was seen around the time Dreamer’s Faith vanished.

Now, the odd turn of events has given new voice to complaints, some of them decades old, about the way the fire company manages the iconic herd, made famous in Marguerite Henry’s classic 1947 book, Misty of Chincoteague.

At least one familiar foe is calling for an investigation of the fire company’s horsemanship.

“There’s a lot of questions about what the hell happened,” said Edita Birnkrant, campaign director for Connecticut-based Friends of Animals, an activist group that devoted a three-part series in its newsletter in 2005 to the plight of the ponies.

“Clearly there were mistakes,” she added. “I’d say this needs to be investigated. We need to find out what happened. How did this horse die and under what circumstances?”

The animal rights group strongly opposes the pony swim and auction that has been conducted each summer for the past 90 years. In 2014, it petitioned the federal government to classify wild horses as an endangered species, granting them the same protective status as the polar bear or the gray wolf. The Fish and Wildlife Service declined to do so earlier this year.

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