For years, the government, through the Bureau of Land Management, has attempted to control wild horse and burro numbers by rounding the animals up and offering them for adoption. It was during one such roundup in the year 2000 that a flashy sorrel and white yearling was picked up in southern Oregon. She was adopted and moved to a boarding facility but soon after her owner stopped paying for her care and disappeared. The property owners turned her out into a pasture where she remained for more than 10 years.
There was enough grass for the mare to survive, but she didn’t receive any health care or human handling and remained wild and alone. For an animal who had evolved to live in a herd for safety, with a strong need for socialization with other horses, it wasn’t much of a life. The property was sold in September 2013 and the new owners, wanting no responsibility for a wild horse, called animal control with an ultimatum: remove the horse or she’ll be shot. With limited options for what to do with a wild, unadoptable mare, the officers contacted Duchess Sanctuary, a lifetime safe haven for more than 190 horses and donkeys, located in Oakland, Oregon, and run by our affiliate, the Fund for Animals.
Sanctuary staff members corralled the mare using portable panels and alfalfa hay as bait, and carefully loaded her into a trailer. She was transported to the sanctuary, her final, forever home, and given a name, Paisley, upon arrival — in honor of the Paisley Desert area she was born in.
Each one of the equine residents at Duchess, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, has a history just as sad or tragic as Paisley’s. Many of the mares were rescued from the pregnant mare urine industry, which produces pharmaceuticals containing the urine of impregnated horses, and had spent decades in stalls, impregnated and hooked up to machines to collect their urine. Other residents include orphaned mustangs as well as former racing horses and wild horses rescued from auctions and feedlots.
Once the animals enter Duchess, they will never again be hungry, scared or lonely; instead, they are well-fed, deeply loved and able to socialize in a natural environment.
A generous donation from the Ark Watch Foundation brought Duchess into existence a decade ago. What used to be an uninhabited, barb-wire-laden piece of property was transformed into a beautiful haven. Over the years we have made countless property improvements, including the installation of more than 18 miles of horse-safe fencing, a new water system, upgrading and constructing roads, and constructing shelters in every pasture and enclosure. We have also built a “Hospital Barn” for the treatment and care of our special needs horses, and much more.
The property is also a protected haven for wildlife, and is managed to conserve the land as much as possible. This approach has allowed both rescued domestic animals and free-ranging wildlife to flourish.
Related: BLM plotting war on wild horses
Mustangs like Paisley and the others at Duchess are a reminder that wild horses and burros still face the threat of being killed in our western states. The Bureau of Land Management has asked Congress for the authority to kill up to 90,000 “excess” animals. The Humane Society of the United States is working with Congress and the agency to impress upon them that the only way to maintain stable wild horse and burro populations is through fertility control.
Domestic horses in this country also face the real threat of slaughter if they end up in the hands of a kill buyer. That is why it is so important that Congress passes the SAFE Act, which would end the slaughter of American equines completely by banning the transport of horses for slaughter across the border to Canada and Mexico and permanently prevent slaughter plants from opening in the United States. And until the SAFE Act is passed, we urge Congress to maintain the ban on domestic horse slaughter and transport for that purpose via the FY19 Agriculture Appropriations bill.
For her part, Paisley remains quite wild and is not interested in human interaction. But she receives all of the necessary care required to stay healthy and, more importantly to her, she has found her place in the herd with other mustangs and rescued horses. She is no longer lonely or afraid, and she never will be again.
P.S. Like so many of America’s sanctuaries, Duchess is still in need of financial support, and we hope that you’ll consider making a donation in recognition of its anniversary. Your gesture will make it possible not only to improve the lot of animals there now, but to prepare the way for taking in other animals in distress.