SEQUIM — In Greek mythology, it is the phoenix that is regenerated out of the ashes of its predecessor, reborn to live once again.
While her newest companions are quite different creatures, Valerie Jackson can see a similar story being born from tragedy.
In late February, Jackson and the Olympic Peninsula Equine Network of Sequim — a nonprofit horse rescue and rehabilitation group — became home to several animals from a Belfair family with local ties, a family ripped apart by four murders and an apparent suicide.
Some of the details, Jackson said, are hauntingly similar to her own story: About 14 years ago, her then-drug-addicted husband demanded she shoot him, then threatened her life.
“Very traumatic situation,” Jackson says now. “Every time I hear one of these stories, it’s, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ Maybe that’s why I got into rescue.”
In Belfair on Feb. 26, 49-year-old Lana J. Carlson — a former Port Angeles resident three years behind Jackson at Port Angeles High School — was killed along with 16-year-old Quinn Carlson, 18-year-old Tory Carlson and 68-year-old Donna Reed, a neighbor.
The suspected shooter, 51-year-old David Wayne Campbell, fatally shot himself in front of law enforcement following a three-hour standoff.
A 12-year-old girl survived the ordeal.
Jackson, who has served as the equine network president and board chair since September 2014, said she received contact from a member of Lana Carlson’s family a day after the shootings.
Knowing Jackson is involved with horse rescue efforts, he asked whether she could help with animals left in the wake of the tragedy, including two horses and three dogs.
“He and the rest of the family were all still reeling in the shock of it all and were trying to find places for the animals to go,” Jackson said.
Arrangements had been made for many of the animals, including chickens, geese, several dogs and a cow, but there were two horses and three dogs that needed at least temporary living situations.
Jackson and vice president/ranch manager Diane Royall met with the family member in Belfair to take home the five animals.
While the group is set up to handle equine rescues, the organization doesn’t traditionally handle canines.
“We don’t normally take in anything but horses because there are plenty of shelters for cats and dogs available, but in an emergency like this, we will make exceptions,” Jackson said, noting the group is considering a few kennels for temporary dog rescues.
“They [the dogs] were all visibly stressed but happy to see us,” she said.
Among them were an Australian shepherd mix, a golden retriever/Labrador mix and a small golden retriever.
The rescue group found the dogs a temporary foster home, then took care of more than $500 in initial veterinary costs.
More fees accumulated, however: One of the dogs, Riley, was found with several broken teeth (Jackson said she and others think the dog tried to bite through his handmade hog-wire kennel), while another dog looked to have a broken leg and needed an X-ray.
With dental bills and other medical costs piling up to about $1,200 for Riley alone, Jackson said she was trying to figure out how to fundraise for the pets, but a pair of local groups added another chapter to the rescue story.
The Peninsula Friends of Animals (PFOA), a dog-and-cat rescue nonprofit/no-kill shelter based between Sequim and Port Angeles, helped with neutering costs.
“If they qualify, we certainly will spay and do shots,” said Sharon Palmer, PFOA’s spay/neuter coordinator.
“We make sure cats and dogs are spayed and neutered before we adopt them out.”
Palmer and PFOA coordinated with Best Friends Pet Care Center, a Port Angeles veterinary clinic, for the dental surgery.
Palmer said Riley had one tooth removed and several other damaged teeth repaired.
PFOA and the clinic reportedly lowered costs for the dental services, so the overall $1,200 vet bill came to $150.
“Anything we can help [with], that’s what we’re here for,” Palmer said.
In the end, the family who took on the three dogs on a temporary basis decided to make it permanent and is in the process of adopting all three, Jackson said.
The family’s two horses are quite disparate in age, Jackson noted.
When she and Royall first found the pair, the younger was able to get to food and was in good condition, while the older horse struggled to feed itself and fell in the trailer on the return trip to Sequim.
After the horse fell a couple of times, Jackson said, “we actually considered putting her down right then in the trailer.”
But Royall offered the horse a bucket of grain, and that sparked life in the older horse.
“The mare was so excited to get the food that we felt she really did want to live,” Jackson said.
The older horse, Jackson noted, is doing much better now.
“She’s doing amazing,” Jackson said. “She’s just an older horse that needed special care.”
Officials with the rescue group named the older horse Anna and the younger one Elsa — characters from the Disney film “Frozen.”
Jackson said the group would return one or both of the horses if anyone from Lana Carlson’s family wanted them returned but that they hadn’t as of late last week.
The Olympic Peninsula Equine Network, formerly known as Eyes That Smile before a 2014 name change, has 14 horses in its care on individual properties but hopes to build a dedicated facility in the area, Jackson said.
“There’s such a need,” she said. “We’ve got a waiting list for people in our program.”
For more information, see www.olypenequinenet.org, call 360-207-1688 or write to OPEN, P.O. Box 252, Sequim, WA 98382.
________Michael Dashiell is an editor with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected]