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.


Anonymous said...

Once again I am in tears reading your story of one more happy ending to such a sad situation. Thank you so cmuch for sharing it and I am so happy for Starmaker and still determined that I will also someday rescue a horse in need !

Anonymous said...

As always, beautifully written and tear inducing!

giantspeckledchihuahua said...

I spent a good portion of the weekend reading about Argus, crying for joy and sadness for all he went through. I wondered about the other horses. It was really nice to come home today and read that Starmaker is now getting his just desserts. Congratulation to all of you.

maiden53 said...

What a great story and ending, K! :-) Thank you for sharing. I own Arabs and am so VERY happy for Star and all of his mates. His new owner is very lucky to have him! He and Argus (and all of the others) deserve all of the riches that all of you are giving to them now. I am still crying... full of sadness and such happiness!

Anonymous said...

I am in tears reading Starmaker's story. Thank you for sharing it with us.

LuvMyTBs said...

Crying once again as I read your stories of compassion and love for all the beautiful horses that were freed,rescued and loved.

Thanking all involved who had the courage and conviction to do what was right for these horses.

Caryn said...

I'm crying too. Wow, I'm so happy for Star. Katie, you keep making miracles happen. I don't know what to say, except Thank You for all that you do and for sharing your stories with us.


Sydney said...

Aww what a handsome old man. I love endings like this. Amazing.

CTG Ponies said...

I too am shedding tears over his story. I am so happy that Starmaker has found a wonderful place to live out his years.

lucky kachina dancer said...

What an amazing story. And Starmaker is beautiful! I'm so glad that he found a good home, and the love that he deserved.

Anonymous said...

Awesome outcome!! So happy to hear that the others who were so neglected and mistreated are having a great life now. Kudos to all the wonderful people who made this happen!


P.S. You should put "Kleenex alert" on that post! :o) Happy tears!

A Bay Horse said...

What a wonderful story and great writing. I'm glad it was a happy ending!

barrelracingmom said...

Thank you!!

Sport's Mom said...

You make me cry, Katie. Tell Starmaker's Mom to give him a hug for me and you give one to Argus too. :)


Sport's Mom

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post.... I've had an awful week in vet school--- one of those where it would be so easy to quit. Your post reminded me why I want to be a vet-- for horses like Starmaker, Argus and the rest. Please tell everyone that helps these horses with you that they are such a huge inspiration to a little vet student in North Carolina :)

and I'm bawling as usual at your posts-- beautiful, as usual.


Holly said...

the tears flow freely when I visit this blog. So many broken and repaired hearts.

What a handsome handsome boy he is.

excaliber813 said...


Beautiful, as per your usual! I have a box of kleenex beside my computer at all times! Starmaker is stunning, and I am so happy to hear the wonderful outcome, for him, and the others that were in that dreadful hell! I am so thankful that you have shared all of these stories with us.
Big hugs and smoochies to Argies and the crew! Hoping Ridge is feeling better.


urbanfarmhouse said...

I am so relieved this situation has had a happy ending. You told the story beautifully and I am still not through with tears...

Will you tell me please, and not be angry, if I ask if Ms. Tremaine is being treated as well? I am an animal lover and parent with a husband in law enforcement, and have come to understand that this pathology repeats itself. I would be so sad to think this woman was going to be released from jail, only to take out her anger on more helpless victims, perhaps other animals, perhaps children...the behaviors go together.

Thank you for your incredible efforts. Thank you for not giving up. Thank you for sharing.


PaintedPromise said...

good Lord where are the tissues!!! between the heart-breaking beginning and the sould-touching ending, i will be sobbing for more then a few minutes here!

and tonight off i go to pick up a couple of rescue donkeys from down the road... i can only hope that (a) they are not in as bad a shape as Star and his friends, and (b) i am lucky enough to find such a good forever home for them as well! just like the last two, they weren't even here a month, i was so amazed in this economy... i just keep taking them and keep praying and the Lord keeps sending good folks our way...

bless you Katie!!! give that Argus a big ole hug and kiss from me and tell him to give you one right back! and pass it on to Star and his new family for me too.

Katie said...

Urbanfarmhouse said:

>>>>>Will you tell me please, and not be angry, if I ask if Ms. Tremaine is being treated as well? I am an animal lover and parent with a husband in law enforcement, and have come to understand that this pathology repeats itself. I would be so sad to think this woman was going to be released from jail, only to take out her anger on more helpless victims, perhaps other animals, perhaps children...the behaviors go together.<<<<<<<

Pat Tremaine did not receive jail time for her felony convictions. She was required to complete a mental health program, is on probation, and cannot own animals for a period of time. She is being monitored by her probation officer.

Yes, she will re-offend. She is a hoarder, which is related to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), a mental illness. And yes, people who abuse animals often abuse children. Ms. Tremaine's long-estranged offspring can attest to this fact.

There are other agencies --- Health Department, Tax Assessor --- involved. It's all very sad.

However...Things are changing. This conviction, and others the CHANGE Program has been instrumental in supporting, are a huge shift for our county. There were more felony animal cruelty convictions in 2008 than ever before. These cases set legal precedents that guide prosecutors all over the United States.

Information on hoarding as well as the CA penal code regarding animal cruelty:

Behind Closed Doors: The Horrors of Animal Hoarding

The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium

California Penal Code: Animal Welfare Provisions

Long-Term Outcomes In Animal Hoarding Cases

Anonymous said...

Oh Katie
Thank you SO very much for sharing Starmakers' story with us all. And in such a beautiful way as you always do.

Blessing to you all!

Mom said...

Tears again! You are such a terrific, compelling writer. Thank you for getting all those horses out into a better place. Starmaker's story is heartbreaking and finally, heartwarming. Thank you so much.

a touch wild said...

Big, fat tears. Thanks for this gorgeous post. Thanks for all you all do.

Rising Rainbow said...

As someone who breeds and loves Arabian horses I can just see the look in Starman's eyes as he finally gets the attention he knows he deserves. Arabians really are a proud breed and it is so devestating to their egos to be so neglected.

Thanks for the links on horse hoarding. I had no idea there was so much information available. I will be searching through it to see if there is anything that might help with a particular case here.

And thank you for sharing the plight of these horses and the efforts to save them. Only through education and the determination of people like you is there help for these horses.

Schnitzie said...

Ah, it is especially sweet to see one of Argus' companions from hell make it to heaven.

Starmaker's Story is beautiful and has that promise of karmic completion. Thank you for sharing this, Katie, and for all you did to make it possible...to never forget Argus' family.

Janet Buckner said...

Unbelievable! I am balling my head off! Blessings to you and your family and to all of the horses you have touched! We have seen horses that are scarred mentally come around to find the wonderful side of humans and actually TRUST us again! It is a gift. We all should value it!

autumnblaze said...

If he had only a star, he'd look so much like my Arab gelding...

God bless you guys. He deserves it all. They all deserve someone working that hard for them. You guys are angels. :*)