This past weekend, I spoke at the second annual conference of the Texas Humane Legislation Network (THLN), and it was a great showing of advocates focused on improving animal welfare policies and practices in the state. They are determined to pass anti-cockfighting and puppy mill legislation in Austin in 2011, and we are equally determined to help them get there. They and all other puppy mill advocates in the country are anxiously watching the major battle playing out on Prop B in Missouri, and The HSUS is in the thick of the fight there.
From the conference in Austin, I drove to the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary (IEAS), outside of Dallas. It is a sanctuary for big cats and bears, and along with Big Cat Rescue in Tampa and the Shambala Preserve run by Tippi Hedren, it is one of the best known and best run big cat sanctuaries in the nation. IEAS has more than 50 big cats and about 15 bears, and most of them are castoffs from individuals who acquired the animals as pets but then got in over their heads. Groups like IEAS now spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year cleaning up the mess of people who made the reckless decision to keep an exotic animal as a pet.
Friesian horse at Louis Dorfman's ranch.
The facility and its inhabitants are the special passion of Louis Dorfman, who is something of a carnivore whisperer. He has an incredible feel for the cats and their thoughts. The sanctuary, run on a daily basis by Richard Gilbreth, is accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) and by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the enclosures for the animals are some of the best I’ve seen.
Louis is also a horseman, and he took The HSUS’s Chastity Rodgers and me on a tour of his horse ranch, too. There, I met one of the most remarkable looking horses—a 2,000-pound Friesian. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more powerful or muscular-looking horse.
It was a weekend that, in its range of activity, reflects the diversity of interests of The HSUS. We work on the big-picture problems—like public policy—but also focus on the needs of individual creatures who need care and feeding. Louis’s ranch is just about two hours from our own primary animal care facility, Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch. But I also had our Duchess Sanctuary, south of Eugene, Ore., on my mind. There, we have nearly 200 formerly abused, abandoned, neglected and homeless horses. Most are mares who were confined and impregnated for the pregnant mares’ urine (PMU) industry. Others were rescued from public lands or from cases of abuse. The facility, established in 2008 and owned and operated by The Fund for Animals in partnership with The HSUS, was also accredited by GFAS and recognized as an “exemplary haven.”
The HSUS and all the other groups running sanctuaries, like Louis’s, are helping so many tens of thousands of animals in need. While we must help animals in crisis, we must also keep our eyes on the bigger picture—working to prevent animals from getting into these situations in the first place. One greatest hope is to see every animal properly cared for, for life.
The images of the Duchess resident horses grazing, playing and otherwise relaxing are stunning. The photos below capture just a few of these moments.
Photos credit Jennifer Kunz/Duchess Sanctuary.