Dottie is a 19-year-old leopard-spotted Appaloosa mare, a favorite among children who visit Pasture Pals Equine Rescue in Johnston County.
But because of severe neglect, Dottie is blind.
Dottie’s owner was in poor health and left her in a relative’s care while he sought treatment. But the caretaker knew nothing about horses and neglected the eye infection that eventually led to the removal of her eyes.
“I stood out here and held her head while two vets did the surgery,” said Pasture Pals founder Alex Daniels. “She’s a sweet girl. She so badly wants a job, wants something to do.”
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Today, Dottie has most of what she needs – food, a pasture and proper care for her teeth and hooves, and she’s regaining the weight she lost.
What Dottie needs now is an owner; Daniels thinks she would make a great therapeutic horse.
“She could be an inspiration to those who have to overcome and survive,” she said.
North Carolina’s growing horse population has a dark side – cases of abuse and neglect, including the 29 horses, five donkeys, one hinny and one mule now living at Pasture Pals.
“There’s nothing wrong with any of them,” Daniels said. “People hear ‘rescue’ and they assume the animals aren’t good. That’s absolutely wrong. They just need someone who is willing to understand them, what they’ve been through.”
Pasture Pals has 28 acres spread over four parcels between Clayton and Smithfield. It owns some of the land and has long-term leases for the rest. To build exposure for its mission, the rescue hosts tours and birthday parties.
Horses come to Pasture Pals from all over the state, Daniels said.
“I could not say more than two or three ever came from the same area,” she said. “We take in the ones that we feel we can actually rehabilitate and re-home, usually, as we’re not a retirement sanctuary.”
Pasture Pals started with the rescue of one horse, Jessie, on May 1, 2012, Daniels said. The rescue received its nonprofit status a little more than a year later.
The demand on Pasture Pals is high. Daniels said she had to turn away 60 horses last year because she didn’t have room for them. So far this year, she already has turned away 58.
“Either our name is just getting out there more, or the problem is worsening,” she said. “I think it could be getting worse.”
Daniels and her husband, Keith, rely entirely on donations, sponsors and volunteers to run Pasture Pals. The costs are high – hundreds of dollars a week in feed, plus veterinary care, medications and other supplies.
Donations, Daniels said, are always welcome – and in any amount.
“We rely on generosity,” she said. “Everything I have goes back in, but it’s not enough. We have to have help if we’re going to keep doing this.”
‘They just want a home’
Daniels’ goal, in addition to caring for abused and neglected animals, is to find them homes.
Normally, when a new horse arrives at Pasture Pals, Daniels places it in quarantine for evaluation. That can last several weeks. The lucky ones, Daniels said, are adopted shortly after quarantine ends. Others have longer stays.
If she had to guess, Daniels would say the average length of stay before adoption is six to nine months. But some animals, because of health, training, age or other factors, have been at Pasture Pals for years before being adopted.
Because horses are high-maintenance animals, Daniels is careful to educate would-be owners about the cost, steering them to a page on her website that spells out the annual expense of keeping a horse. Add up hay, feed, supplements, water, bedding, waste removal, health care, dental care and shoeing, and that cost comes to $12,390.
Before that are the start-up costs – fencing, a stable or shed and perhaps a truck and trailer for transport.
Daniels doesn’t charge a set adoption fee. Instead, she asks that adopters reimburse Pasture Pals half of what it has spent to care for the animal. Depending on the length of stay, that can be a hefty bill. On the other hand, some of the animals in Daniels care once sold for tens of thousands of dollars.
“I have former race horses, pure bred, dressage, all of that,” she said.
The adoption application is detailed and lengthy, and that’s because Daniels wants to make sure a horse or donkey will be properly cared for. She checks references and makes follow-up visits after an animal has been adopted.
“I don’t want them coming back,” Daniels said. “This needs to be it for them. I don’t ever want to have to come get an animal and bring them back here after they’ve finally found a home. Because they don’t understand. They haven’t done anything wrong. They just want a home.”
Some, like Storm, are fine physically but suffer from emotional trauma, Daniels said. A 15-year-old mustang gelding, Storm was kept in a stall for more than 14 years, Daniels said, never being turned out, never trained.
When Storm came to Pasture Pals, it had been so long since he felt anything but his own manure under his feet, he was unsure what dirt and grass were, Daniels said. Storm is insecure too, she said. In a large, open pasture, he gets scared, Daniels said, because he’s used to being enclosed.
“It’s like he has PTSD,” she said. “He was confined for so long, that was his normal.”
“They all have a story. That’s part of what we do,” Daniels said. “We care for them, we educate people, and we tell their stories.”
While rehabilitating and finding homes for the animals is the top priority for Pasture Pals, Daniels said the rescue has another mission – to educate people on equine care and upkeep.
“So few people know what goes into taking care of them,” she said. “And so many of our cases of abuse or neglect also are cases of plain ignorance.
“People may not know that a horse needs to have certain dental or hoof care. They might not know when to call a vet. They usually don’t know what the proper feed is. All of those could have a devastating effect on a horse.”
Daniels thinks Johnston County’s growing equine industry is a good thing, but as the horse population grows, so do the chances for abuse and neglect, she said. Daniels has had animals dumped at Pasture Pals; that’s illegal under North Carolina law.
“There’s the chance that you’ll have more forgotten, cast aside or abused,” she said. “I wish we didn’t have to exist – that all of them were treated well their entire lives. But that’s not the case. So we’ll be here for them, as many of them as we can for as long as we can.”
To learn more about Pasture Pals Equine Rescue, including how to donate, adopt or volunteer, go to www.pasturepalser.com or find the rescue on Facebook.
Abbie Bennett: 919-553-7234, Ext. 101; @AbbieRBennett