QUILCENE — Three weeks ago, Sara Penhallegon received a call from a Port Hadlock man who had lost his property to foreclosure. The house had been sold, the new owner was arriving in three days and the man was not able to find new homes for 16 of the 22 horses on the 5-acre property.
Could she come and get them now, he asked.
Penhallegon agreed to take five of the horses to her ranch, Center Valley Animal Rescue, a shelter near Quilcene for farm and domestic animals formerly known as Second Chance Ranch.
With nine horses already in residence, the additions would bring the ranch to its equine capacity. But Penhallegon couldn’t stop at five horses.
When she got to the Hadlock property, she saw Willy, a 2-year-old quarter horse with a ruptured umbilical hernia.
“My eyes went right to him,” she said. “I knew I couldn’t leave him. Then I realized I couldn’t leave any of them.”
With the help of a friend, Penhallegon took all 16 horses, saving them from the dim future that awaits abandoned horses.
At the ranch, the horses received food, medical care and long-overdue grooming, and with the exception of Willy, are in fine fettle and looking for new owners.
“These are beautiful horses with a lot of potential,” Penhallegon said.
Penhallegon said she had previously offered to help the owner but was turned down.
When she arrived to take the horses away, there was not a blade of grass left on the property, she said.
The horses appeared not to have eaten for several days, she said, although they did have water.
“Most of these horses were thin and malnourished and had parasites and worms,” Penhallegon said. “The horses’ feet were bad shape and had not been trimmed in years.”
In addition, the mares had been kept with the studs and the yearlings, which were still nursing.
“That put a tremendous strain on the mares,” Penhallegon said.
Owner needed help
According to Jefferson County Sheriff Tony Hernandez, no charges have been filed against the former owner, who was not running a horse-breeding farm and was not intentionally abusing the animals.
The situation is a common one in the county, he said — someone who has animals takes in more, then because of circumstances, such as illness or age, cannot take care of them.
When the situation escalates out of control, the sheriff’s office is called in.
“We try to help the owner, and we try to help the animals,” Hernandez said.
Having Penhallegon take the unwanted horses is a tremendous help, he said, and the department is able to provide financial assistance through an animal emergency fund supported by donations.
But with their need for medical supplies, as well as hay and feed, the guests are putting a strain on the ranch’s resources.
“Doing a huge horse rescue was not exactly in the budget,” Penhallegon said.
Penhallegon and Dr. Jan Richardson gelded the yearlings, and along with Dr. Tony Rogstad, spent last Saturday trying to repair the young quarter horse’s umbilical hernia.
“It was try, or put him down,” Penhallegon said. “He’s not out of the woods yet, and we don’t know if he’ll make it. But at least we know we’ve done everything we possibly could.”
Volunteers helped care for the horses upon arrival, Penhallegon said, and Jodie Holt, who helped her transport them, is fostering six of them on her farm.
They include Dreamcatcher, a 6-year-old quarter horse; Mouse, a chocolate-colored, 2-year-old quarter horse; and Firefly, a chestnut-colored Arab.
“All are beautiful and ready to go,” Penhallegon said.
Megan Titus, a horse trainer who lives in Quilcene, is assessing the horses and how much training they need, Penhallegon said.
Only the oldest mare, a 17-year-old chestnut dubbed Cowpoke, is dead-broke, meaning anyone can ride her.
Others, like the yearlings, haven’t been handled before, Penhallegon said, and need owners who have the know-how to train them.
To help cover expenses, Center Valley Animal Care is charging an adoption fee of $300 to $600 a horse, depending on the amount of money spent on them, Penhallegon said.
Horses with good bloodlines normally would cost a lot more, she said.
“Some of these horses will be valuable once training has been put into them,” she said.
Other horses already living at the ranch and available for adoption are Cotton, a pony trained for riders, and Frosty, a quarter horse who would make a good child’s horse, Penhallegon said.
Dainty Painty, a paint, and Bonnie, a saddle-bred cross, are also ready for new owners.
Until they or the new horses are adopted out, Penhallegon can’t rescue any more.
“More and more people can’t feed their horses because of hard economic times,” Penhallegon said. “Some people are letting them starve. It’s been tough.”
If she hadn’t taken the 16 horses, they might have ended up as food, she said, or on the auction block. In their condition, they would not have found homes.
“I went in planning to take five of them but couldn’t do it,” Penhallegon said. “I couldn’t decide which ones would live and which ones would die.
“I couldn’t choose, so I chose them all.”
For more information, go to centervalleyanimalrescue.org, phone Penhallegon at 360-765-0598 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Port Townsend/Jefferson County reporter-columnist Jennifer Jackson can be reached at email@example.com.