The latest development in the rescue of 56 horses from the derelict Whispering Pines Ranch in Susanville by members of the Grace Foundation of El Dorado Hills is a bankruptcy court ruling that grants the foundation legal custody of the horses, many of which are pregnant.
A foundation press release called the ruling “bittersweet.”
Director Beth DeCaprio reported that her volunteers can now begin the process of evaluating all of the horses to determine their suitability for adoption, but the cost for their care is a tremendous burden for the non-profit, which is already inundated with the need for its services, she said.
The Grace Foundation ranch, located in southern El Dorado Hills off Latrobe Road, is currently home to more than 250 animals.
The foreclosure of the Susanville ranch in August and owner Dwight Bennett’s subsequent application for bankruptcy froze the horses as assets of Bennett’s estate, thus preventing any adoptions and further adding to the financial burden of caring for the 56 horses and up to 22 foals.
Due to the likelihood of high-risk deliveries and premature foals, all pregnant mares will remain at The Grace Foundation until after they give birth, and until it can be determined that both mare and foal are healthy and strong, according to a Grace Foundation press release. At that time, both mare and foal may be available for adoption together.
DeCaprio said several individuals have made ownership claims on the Whispering Pines horses, many of which were near starvation, and that volunteers can now assess those claims and begin the process of placing the horses that are not pregnant up for adoption.
Volunteers are working to socialize the pregnant mares before they go into delivery. “It’s helpful to everyone if the mare isn’t wild or feral before trying to deliver a foal, especially given that the mare and foal may experience complications,” said foundation spokesperson Taira Mulliken.
Two of the pregnant mares recently miscarried. Both had a belly full of sand and debris. A two-year-old filly named Peanut died earlier this month from the condition, which is likely the result of scouring the ground aggressively for food, according to Grace Foundation veterinarian Michael Russell.
Although horses typically ingest a small amount of dirt and sand while grazing, what’s being found in the guts of the 56 Susanville horses has turned into a medical nightmare.
Russell is administering psyllium, a high-fiber bulk laxative, in an effort to push some of the debris through the horses.
The Grace Foundation’s loud campaign to see ranch owner Dwight Bennett held accountable for the years of abuse and neglect that the horses allegedly suffered culminated in late October, when Lassen County Sherriff’s deputies raided the ranch and found drugs, guns, 28 dead horses and three dead dogs. Bennett was eventually charged with 70 felony counts of animal cruelty.
Grace Foundation volunteers are following the case closely, and report that Bennett pleaded innocent to the cruelty charges during his arraignment on Jan. 3 at the Susanville Courthouse. The case was continued to Feb. 7.
DeCaprio predicts the total 2012 cost of caring for the mares and foals to be more than $200,000.
She’s created a “Gracefoal” fund, and is asking the community to help out. More information is available on the Grace Foundation website, thegracefoundationofnorcal.org.
“This case is sad, but watching a community unify has been our ‘saving grace,’” said DeCaprio.