Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Farewell To A Friend

February 5, 1979 - November 15, 2008

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Our three greys: Deema greets Argus and Ridge on one of Argus' maiden group turnouts. Everyone loved the gentle Deema.

Our beautiful Deema, known to all as the gentle old Arabian who wandered our yard greeting visitors, crossed the rainbow bridge on Sunday, November 15 at 5pm. He lived with his usual gusto right until he became suddenly violently ill around 2pm with what looked like colic, but was later thought to have been some sort of catastrophic cardiovascular event. The vet arrived quickly and helped Deema out of his pain.

Nadeemaah was born February 5, 1979 in Texas. He was a show horse for many years before becoming a lesson horse in a a program for troubled teens. Deema joined our family six years ago. He left us just a few months shy of his 30th birthday.

We were blessed to have this beautiful creature cross our path and will miss his sweet personality and gentle whinny. He was a dear horse who could be trusted with the smallest child. Many children took their first ride on Deema, who always walked so carefully.

Deema's "wife" Ginger, our Shetland pony, has been grieving deeply. Please keep her in your thoughts as she struggles to adjust to life without her constant companion. All of the horses at Watermark Farm had a special affection for Deema, who always offered to groom them over the fence. He was the kind old grandfather horse who made everyone happy.

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Deema counsels Argus about life, friends, pasture and holding still for the farrier. A little white teddy bear in winter, Deema invited hugs and affection from humans and horses alike.

Mourning, too, is our daughter, 10-year-old Shelby. Deema was her first horse and first love. She groomed him daily and always made sure his every need was met. She sat with his body for two long hours after he died, crying softly into his mane. Later, she told me she'd seen a shooting star in the northern sky. "That's a message from Deema," I said, telling her that when my first horse died I, too, saw a shooting star. "It means he's okay."

When Shelby's first pony died on a cold January evening seven years ago, I gazed at the flat winter sky, trying to understand such an unfair loss. A beautiful shooting star streaked across the heavens.

I thought about this as I stood with Deema's body late on the night of his death. I thanked this gentle soul for all he'd given my family. A tear rolled down my cheek as I said a silent prayer. Then I had the strongest urge to look up.

Across the inky dark sky, a brilliant white shooting star flew on by.

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Just one day out of prison, Argus takes his shaky first walk outside the barn. Deema followed along quietly, and seemed to tell him "It's OK! It's OK!"

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Dreaded Pigeon Fever

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After a peaceful summer in which Argus led the charmed life of a newly-freed prisoner, fall has presented Argus with challenges. I dearly wish I could somehow protect him from worry and discomfort, but I can't. He's endured enough hard times to fill ten lifetimes.

First, his friend Ridge has lately been confined to what Argus rightfully views as JAIL --- a paddock. Ridge's hind end lameness has progressed to the point where it's become a four-alarm event . We're getting close to figuring out what ails Ridge, but meantime, he's been sentenced to paddock jail with twice daily handwalks.

Argus, meantime, swaps Pigeon Fever stories with Half Pint and Caleb, as all three geldings have contracted this infection so common in California.

It's been weeks now that I've been hot packing and cleaning and draining and cleaning and draining and hot packing chest and belly abscesses. Half Pint was the first to get it. His case has been the most spectacular. Argus followed quietly with a simpler belly abscess requiring minimal intervention. That was so like Argus, to get sick and nearly get better without even letting me know.

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Still, he hasn't felt like his usual, sparkly self for a few weeks, and the on again, off again fever that gives Pigeon Fever its name has taken its toll (the pigeon part comes from the characteristic swollen chest, making the horse look like rather pigeon-like). Argus has lost quite a bit of weight and now, as a second large abscess is developing in his chest, is sore, too.

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His arthritic knee is due for another joint injection as well. His eyes are just a bit less merry than normal as he stalks Half Pint through the pasture. I feel sorry for him, yet, I know he's experiencing life, and all it has to offer. Good and bad.

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Still, Argus makes the most of things. He enjoyed our recent first real rain of the season, rolling in the new mud until we joked that he was dressed up like a bay horse for Halloween. I realized later that this was yet another first for Argus as he closes in on a full year of freedom --- the singular pleasure of rolling in mud that hours before had been dry, powdery dirt.

"It's all normal stuff, buddy," I counsel Argus as he lets me tend to his swollen chest. I wish I could lift his spirits with a deep discussion of the duality of life, and how pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, and health and disease exist side by side. Instead, I do the next best thing and offer him a horse cookie. He accepts it gratefully, chewing it slowly and licking his lips as he half dozes in the warm fall sun.

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Last, but not least, Caleb is still looking for his forever home. He's schooling elementary dressage and recently attended a Pony Club lesson. He is a 19-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, a former stakes winner who won eight major races, most won wire-to-wire. His drive to win is evident in his serious work ethic. Caleb loves to learn and takes our schooling sessions seriously. He is a beautiful mover and is sound, and has a level head on the trail. Caleb is looking for an intermediate adult rider to help write the rest of his rescue story. Please contact Katie at watermarkfarm1@yahoo.com for information on Caleb.

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Monday, November 3, 2008

Guilty!!! Justice for Katie, Jack and Yiyo

In memory of the horse Yiyo. We wish we could have spared you such suffering. You live in our hearts, and you will never be forgotten...

On the heels of such sad news with Athena, I'm pleased to announce a GUILTY verdict in the criminal animal cruelty trial, People v. Barrera, Valencia!!! The people who neglected Sonoma CHANGE Program horses Katie and her horse companions Jack and YiYo will now face the consequences of their actions.

I was one of dozens of people who attended the trial. We were told that not even murder trials had such a large audience. This, in turn, generated tremendous media attention.

Following Mr. Barrera's guilty verdict, a stunned audience watched as he was handcuffed in the courtroom and taken to the county jail, where he will stay WITHOUT BAIL until sentencing on November 26. For those close to this case, November 26, 2007 is the day that Mr. Barrera's horse YiYo died an excruciating death, alone in a stall without medical attention, of a intestinal twist.

So here is the press coverage. Please join me in celebrating this victory. Here in Sonoma County, animal cruelty cases have rarely seen the inside of a courtroom. The Sonoma CHANGE Program, The Sonoma County District Attorney's Office, and Sonoma County Animal Care & Control are now working together to set a precedent of aggressive prosecution of crimes against animals. We hope these efforts will inspire other counties around the nation.

Bloomfield couple on trial for abuse in horse's death

Woman in horse-abuse case says boyfriend was in charge

Horse cruelty trial nears conclusion

Defendant guilty in death of horse

Plea bargain in horse cruelty case

Woman accepts deal to avoid retrial in horse abuse

Katie during rehabilitation at a CHANGE Program foster farm:

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Katie rides Katie in a training session last August at Watermark Farm:

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Katie's daughter, Rich Debut (chestnut on right), actively raced on the West Coast in 2008. Please keep your eye out for her as she, like many racing TBs, may eventually need a new home. Katie also has a 2-year-old son living on a Thoroughbred breeding farm in Vacaville, CA. The farm owner would like to place him. Please contact me if you are interested in Katie's son, and I will connect you with the farm owner. These two horses are Katie's only living offspring.

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Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Last Horse Out of Hell

It is with great sadness that I announce that Athena was humanely euthanized today. She was not doing well in her foster home, and was slamming into her stall walls , creating a serious hazard for her caretakers (one of whom was injured by Athena). The Sonoma CHANGE Program provided Athena with separate evaluations from two veterinary opthalmologists as well as Dr. Miller. Athena had no vision in one eye, and a painfully detached retina in the other. She was in constant pain from her eyes and her badly foundered feet. Athena has crossed the rainbow bridge and is now in a better place. You are free now, Athena.

Athena was the last horse to leave Argus' hell. Last Monday, she waited quietly in the littered pasture for her long-awaited rescue, alone in so many ways.

Athena, we discovered sadly, had become profoundly blind. An opthalmologist confirmed the next morning that uveitis, untreated, had robbed Athena of her sight. Her retina is painfully detached. The prognosis is not good.

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She stretched toward our voices, her beautiful face bright and eager. She could see our general movement, light and shadows, but that was all. Still, she trusted three Sonoma CHANGE Program volunteers to halter her, even though touch was so unfamiliar, and scary, and allowed me to lead her through the junkyard that has been her home since birth.

This is Hell: This is the home where Argus and his horse family spent their lives. You can see the infamous mare motel in the photos. This is where Argus was locked up for 15 years:

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I could sympathize with Athena's blindness, with the challenge of walking through narrow pathways between piles of junk. The saying "seeing red" came to mind, for I had come face to face not only with the blind Athena, but with Pat, the woman who had cruelly imprisoned and mistreated Argus.

Pat The Hoarder followed behind me, shouting: Get your hands off her face!! I want some pictures of her. I need to get her set up for pictures! I rode this mare's father, and mother, and grandfather! She's a champion! I had her whole family! Now get off her face, god dammit!! Get away from her!

It took me everything I had to maintain control. "You've had your chance to take pictures," I growled, shaking, with shallow breath. My field of vision became narrow, spotted, red. Blinded by rage, and dragging a strangely trusting blinded mare behind me, I fled down the driveway, to the country road below.

"Just walk with me, sweetie, I won't hurt you," I whispered urgently to Athena, as we stumbled down Goodwyn Avenue. "We are here to take you to a safe place. You must leave this place now. Please walk with me, trust me."

And she did.

This place. This hell. This raging madwoman trailing behind me, screaming about photos and "setting her up." I had, at long last, come face to face with Argus' jailor. I was filled with a sort of blinding rage that I've almost never experienced.

Here is Argus' prison. This is the mare motel where he spent his whole life. This is the tiny 12 by 16 paddock that was home. This is the still filthy water tub that he drank out of for years.

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This was Argus' view from prison:

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Two doors down, the TV show "Extreme Home Makeover" had once descended upon the neighborhood to tear down an aging farmhouse and rebuild it into a country estate. I remember visiting the site and watching them gut the house. I did not know that, just a few hundred feet away, Argus eagerly took in the activity:

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At the trailer, Athena sniffed hopefully. To our knowledge, she'd never set foot in a horse trailer. The former owner stood behind us, barking orders that made no sense, rambling on and on about horses, and Athena, and how finely bred she was. I stood inside the trailer, speaking softly to Athena, urging her to step inside:

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Horses seem to know when you are trying to help them. Strange things happen in the urgent atmosphere of a rescue situation. Horses who have never been handled allow themselves to be haltered. Blind mares who have never been transported climb willingly into a horse trailer. And that is what happened with Athena. After 15 minutes of inching into the open trailer, bumping her sightless head into the sides and trusting the voice of a stranger, Athena climbed in.

Her jailor stood behind her, watching with palpable rage before silently disappearing into the house. The last horse to go.

A prison decommissioned.

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