Tuesday, March 24, 2009

From Hell To Heaven: Starmaker's Journey


All good stories have a happy ending:
Today, Starmaker lives at a beautiful private farm, where he spends his days in pasture and his nights in a warm barn where the door to the outside world is always open.

ONCE UPON A TIME, more than 20 years ago, a horse named Starmaker was born on a hobby ranch in Sonoma County, California. The much anticipated result of a union between two Polish Arabians, Starmaker was a handsome foal.

As Starmaker grew, his owner made sure he received a solid education. He spent some time in training with a local cowboy named Dennis Reis. Starmaker learned to carry pack equipment. He became a wonderful riding horse. Sturdy and gentle, he proudly carried children on their first ride.

Starmaker's owner liked to boast about her fine horses and their fine breeding, but she had strange ideas about what made for good horse husbandry. A local oddity on the horse scene, she had a reputation for being hostile and mean-tempered to both horses and humans. As the years ticked by, Starmaker noticed that his shabby home was even shabbier. The barns, the fencing, even Starmaker himself looked shabby. He looked around at his companions and realized that it had been a long, long time since any of them had been cared for. His owner mostly sat in the old house now, trash piled high against its walls. When she came out to feed him, her eyes sparkled with a strange combination of love and disgust.


Convicted of two counts of felony animal cruelty, Pat Tremaine Clivio watches as her horse, Athena, is seized by authorities. Blind, confused, and in pain as a result of untreated uveitis, Athena was put to sleep a few days later.



The owner had strange ideas about each of the horses. She was proud of their breeding and backgrounds, but refused to give them even the most basic of care. Starmaker was most worried about the two Thoroughbreds, for Argus and Bobby had been locked in their pens for many years. Poor Argus rocked back and forth madly, staring off into space and wearing a deep rut in the ground. Starmaker could only look on, his desperation growing.

Athena, Sammy and Destiny lived in the pasture with Starmaker most of the time, but they never knew when their owner would come and put them in the stalls or pens and leave them there for months on end. Starmaker and his companions grew to fear going inside a building.

They longed for hay, and good pasture grass, but the two acres they inhabited was grazed down quickly. Their owner fed them stale french bread and old produce. She kept tons of hay neatly stacked and tarped, but Starmaker knew the hay was just for looks. It had sat there for years and had never been used.

Unlike some of the horses, Starmaker was old enough that he remembered what it was like to have his feet trimmed. That hadn't happened for many years. Sometimes, his hooves seemed to ache, they were so long. Not long enough to draw attention, but long enough to hurt.


What Starmaker could not know is how many times the neighbors called for help for him and his friends, and how many people pleaded with his owner to give the horses better care. He could not know that more than 20 years of worry and anguish were about to come to an end. That people could no longer stand to drive by and see the six horses rotting away slowly, day by long day.

One cold December day, as Starmaker watched the rats scamper across the stale bread loaves piled high in the mare motel, the farm became a hive of activity. Pickup trucks pulled in, and people gathered. They murmured amongst themselves. Starmaker was hopeful: Could they be bringing hay? Brushes? Might they trim his aching feet?

Gently, the people tended to the two horses locked in the pens: Argus and Bobby. Starmaker could not remember the last time he had seen either of them leave the mare motel. It took 45 minutes for the veterinarian to catch Argus in a 12 x 24 pen. Starmaker ached for Argus, who, not being used to human touch, was terribly frightened. Two nice ladies took them away in a trailer, promising him they would have happy new homes. It would be the last time Starmaker would ever see them.

The veterinarian looked at Starmaker, Sammy, Athena and Destiny. He quietly wormed them, and held them while a farrier trimmed their feet. The veterinarian looked sad, too. He knew he could not take them out of this place today. He wished he could.


Life went on as usual for Starmaker and his friends. He assumed it would always be like this, a dismal symphony of stomping and swishing at flies, the sting in his eyes as they swelled in the summer heat, the lack of real food, his ribs showing some, but not enough. He watched as their feet became long and painful again. And he watched as sweet Athena lost her sight, first in one eye, then in another. Her eyes bulged painfully after that, red and angry. She stood with her ear cocked curiously toward the world, relying on her companions to guide her. Only strong Sammmy (or Samantha as she was called) seemed to fluorish, a half-wild, unhandled and unbroken spirit. Starmaker attributed this to Sammy's royal Trakehner breeding.

Starmaker could not know that people at the District Attorney's office and Animal Services were working very hard on his behalf. He also did not know that the veterinarian was a volunteer with an organization called the Sonoma County CHANGE Program, which helped horses in his situation. He could not know that every two weeks, the vet himself or the lady that had adopted Argus drove by his pasture, just to check on him. The lady would stop her white Suburban in the road outside his paddock and talk to him over the fence. She whispered urgent promises to him, but always drove away crying.

One Fall day, while Starmaker and his friends were munching on bread and lettuce, life as he knew it changed forever. His owner, Pat Tremaine Clivio, who had been charged with felony animal cruelty for her confinement and treatment of Argus and Bobby, was found guilty of her crime. Part of her punishment would be losing the rest of her horses. At long last, Starmaker, Sammy, Athena and Destiny would be safe.

Or so they thought.

Faced with the imminent loss of her "beloved" horses, the guilty owner quickly moved Starmaker, Destiny and Sammy to a hiding place across town. The people who had worked so hard to get Starmaker to safety were outraged! How could this happen? Where were the horses? Where had she taken them?

Two former law enforcement officers who liked to sneak around offered to help, their eyes glinting with determination. They asked around, they slithered through the tall dry grass. They held cameras with telephoto lenses until at last, in a pasture on the east side of Santa Rosa, they found the horses! They found Starmaker, Sammy and Destiny alive and well.


The blind Athena was left behind, all alone in her home of many years.


The move, and all the hiding, had been hard on Starmaker. Under his winter coat, he was thin and tired.


A flurry of urgent meetings and phone calls ended with a judge's seizure order. Forces mobilized. The white trucks and the trailers came again. The same veterinarian who had come before was there, which made Starmaker feel better. All around them were smiles and kind hands, catching them, leading them into trailers. Sammy happily climbed into a trailer to be taken to a foster barn. Starmaker and Destiny were taken together to another foster barn where they had their feet trimmed, their teeth floated, and were treated to the best hay they had ever eaten. But best of all, people came every day to brush Starmaker and clean his eyes, and help him feel presentable again.

Starmaker, knowing that he was now tattered and old beyond his years, wondered if anyone would ever ride him again. He suppposed not, him being so thin and bedraggled and worn out now. He even had cancer on his penis, something called squamous cell carcinoma. Starmaker knew he was no longer beautiful.

Once again, Starmaker could not know that the wheels of fortune were in motion yet again. The lady in the white Suburban, the one who had talked to him so many times over the fence, was determined to find him a wonderful home. She knew this would not be easy, for most people don't want to adopt a horse with cancer. Even though the veterinarian had promised to try treating Starmaker's tumors, the reality was that Starmaker might not be long for this world.

One day, a mother of young children called her. "I want to help a rescue horse," she said. The Suburban lady felt the words escape her lips: "If you want to help, would you consider adopting a horse with cancer?" She could hardly believe she'd said it.

The next day, the mother of young children called her back. She had discussed it with her family, and they had all agreed: Starmaker would have his final home with them.

That was in December, not so long ago for us, but a lifetime to Starmaker. Neglected for so many years, Starmaker's health has improved beyond any expectation. His tumors are being treated, and everyone has high hopes for him. By night, he lives in a beautiful barn; by day he roams a large green pasture with his fancy warmblood girlfriend. He loves his family, including his devoted groom and the two young children who see not an old horse, but a gallant steed. But he mostly loves their mother, the one who wanted to help, and who smiled and said "yes" to being the last stop on Starmaker's journey.


From Starmaker's New Mom:

Last night we had a party....During the party the guests wandered into the barn to give carrots, and I told Star's story. The best part is that they were all oogling him, and going on and on about how beautiful he was, and how fancy. It was amazing!!
Star actually came to the front of the stall, and all the guests fed him carrots. He ate it up (literally) and he even tried to get closer and come out into the aisle. I stood with my back to his chest, nestled under his neck, to keep him in while all the guest greeted him. He felt so special, and you could tell for the first time, he really believed he was deserving of the admiring glances. It struck me that something transformed in him. Like he was now living the life that he could have only dreamed of. That people didn't look past him or pass by, but that they saw beauty in him and stopped to appreciate him. I was stunned how relaxed he was with the crowd. He just seemed to say, yes...this is the attention and love I have looked for my whole life. This is good.

What a moment. Of all our darling and beautiful horses, he got the most attention. He had a look in his eye like "I have arrived. I am as special, beautiful and fancy as the rest. I deserve this attention." And he IS and he DOES!

Thank you for asking us to take Starmaker, it has been a gift to my soul. It is far more rewarding and touching than I could have imagined. It feels so good to give a second chance to a helpless creature that is so deserving. And how rewarding to see him thrive!!!




Starmaker's happy ending is the result of years of hard work by so many determined people: Pat Tremaine's long-suffering neighbors; the determined volunteers of the Sonoma County CHANGE Program; Grant Miller, DVM; the Sonoma County District Attorney's office; Sonoma County Animal Care & Control; and the wonderful family who opened their hearts to Starmaker.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Busy.....But Not Dead

I've been hard at work focusing on creative, fulfilling activities like taxes and corporate paperwork. Sorry for the break in posts.

Argus is just fine.
I'll post an update tomorrow.