Portland was found starving in a field in Snohomish County when he was discovered last June.
Shortly after, the thoroughbred horse was retrieved by SAFE (Save a Forgotten Equine), an organization that focuses on rescuing, rehabbing, and retraining horses that have faced neglect or abuse.
“He was not far from death,” said Bonnie Hammond, executive director and co-founder of SAFE.
Prior to arriving to a Kitsap County SAFE farm, the thoroughbred horse spent three weeks in animal control’s custody because of his thinness — his ribs, spine, hip and shoulder bones protruded. This October, his former owner is scheduled to go on trial for animal cruelty, Hammond said.
But with an increased food intake and quality care, the former racehorse is looking better these days at his temporary home in Silverdale with Hammond.
That’s the overall goal of SAFE — to get horses back to their former glory days through love and proper care.
Hammond’s Silverdale site is one of several that homes SAFE horses as the animals recover and are prepared for adoptions. She currently has two SAFE horses, Portland and Owen, as well as her personal horse, Jay. As a co-founder of the grassroots organization, she has also established Safe Harbor Stables in Woodinville, which is run completely by volunteers.
At any given time, the organization has 28 horses going through rehab and or training to become more adoptable. Funding is through some grants, but mostly it comes from the public’s generosity.
“I love SAFE for many reasons,” said SAFE Volunteer Coordinator Heather Evans-Keliher. “I feel their ethics on how they rescue (mainly working with animal control) are ideal. The care, treatment, and training the horses receive is exemplary. SAFE also offered me a place in their group to volunteer when I had no previous horse experience. They gave me knowledge on horses and friendship amongst the people. They are also a completely transparent organization. You know exactly where your donations go, how they are used, and what the goals are for the future.”
The co-founder takes great pride in the transparency of sharing financial statements online.
“We’re trying to build an organization that’s going to last a number of years,” said Hammond.”It’s definitely a partnership. We wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the people who volunteer for us.”
The executive director started the organization when she discovered that unwanted horses were ending up in what she calls the “slaughter pipeline” to be killed for their meat.That’s when she and a few others chose to pool funds together and help save those horses from feed lots where they were being fattened before being killed.
That was in 2005, and Hammond, a former graphic designer, hasn’t looked back since. She’s seen tremendous recovery efforts for 150 horses that have been brought in, and she was thrilled when the USDA shut down the last of slaughterhouses.
“We give them their lives back through care and the light comes back on in their eyes,” she said. “That whole process is fulfilling.”
In 2007, the last U.S. plant that slaughtered horses closed. Since then, horses often are exported to Canada and Mexico for slaughter, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association newsletter.
Between 1992 and 2007, it is estimated that between 75,000 to 150,000 horses of the U.S. domestic equine populations were sent to slaughter each year, according to the newsletter.
The horses headed for slaughter often have that owners may not be able to afford or that have injured or are likely to injure people. Other reasons include dangerous to handle, lameness, or illness. Some of the population are also former riding or racing horses that can no longer perform and are left to die.
On the organization’s website, horse lovers can follow the detailed, current information on the horses in SAFE’s care. Photos tell of each animal’s journey from intake through adoption as they are nursed back to health.
“A majority of the time, the horses come to us in poor to bad conditions, both physically and mentally. It’s heartbreaking to witness the effects of the abuse they suffered,” said Evans-Keliher. “But then slowly, day by day, with good food, medical care, and lots of kind words and energy, these scared, hurt horses transform into wonderful energetic mares and geldings. When they leave for their forever home it’s so bittersweet. I love them as if they are mine while they are with us, but I know that they are destined for even better things when they get adopted.”
For more information on volunteering or donating to SAFE, visit www.safehorses.org online. Volunteers are always needed at the Woodinville barn to commit to weekly shifts. Volunteers with multimedia experience and marketing and advertising skills are also encouraged to apply to help.