Members of the Adopt-a-Horse program, who have rehabilitated and found homes for more than 100 horses since 2007, accept only neglected and abused horses seized by Clark County Animal Control.
But the nonprofit organization recently made an exception, taking in Snickers and Sweetie Pie, two of 89 horses seized last year from a Spokane-area farm.
A felony warrant has been issued for the property's owner, Janice Long, according to Spokane County Superior Court records. Long also uses the last name Hickerson.
Pat Brown, a coordinator for Adopt-a-Horse, said the case was unusual enough to merit an exception.
"We wanted to help out another county that was overwhelmed by horses," Brown said.
She said Adopt-a-Horse took only two horses, because members never want to have more than 12 to 15 horses at a time. The group currently has five horses, including Snickers and Sweetie Pie, and Brown said volunteers wanted to keep spaces available for local horses.
"Winter is the worst time," she said. A lot of owners rely on nice spring and summer grass for their horses, she said, and when winter comes "they aren't prepared for the costs of a horse. They are very expensive animals, and they are high maintenance."
Brown estimates that it costs at least $1,800 to $2,000 a year to feed and care for a healthy horse, not counting additional medical expenses.
For a rescue group that relies on donations and the occasional grant, a case like this illustrates the expense of horses and difficulty finding homes for animals that have been abused, Brown said. Sponsored by the Clark County Executive Horse Council, the group solicits financial donations on its website (www.adoptahorseprogram.org.) It also accepts in-kind donations, such as used tack that can be resold.
In December, the Board of Spokane County Commissioners authorized an additional $25,000 payment to the Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service to help cover costs in the Long case, according to The Spokesman-Review. The newspaper reported that SCRAPS Director Nancy Hill told commissioners the seizure of 63 horses on Nov. 15 from Long's property could cost her department as much as $60,000, which comes on top of $30,000 spent following a July 20 raid on Long's property that netted 26 horses.
Hill cited cold weather and veterinarian costs as reasons she needed the extra money, and commissioners granted the request on the grounds she explore the possibility of putting a lien on the property and seizing assets, according to The Spokesman-Review.
Only eight of the horses remain in the care of SCRAPS. The rest have been adopted or placed in foster care or with other rescue groups, said DeAnna Woolston, media coordinator for Adopt-a-Horse.
Brown said the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals gave Adopt-a-Horse $500 each for taking Snickers and Sweetie Pie. The ASPCA also gave $5,000 to SCRAPS to help cover expenses, according to the organization's website. It said the horses were emaciated, dehydrated and had no access to "acceptable" food or water.
Agencies in Maryland, Kansas and Colorado offered to help care for the horses, as well as foster groups in Washington.
The two horses arrived in Camas on Friday. While Sweetie Pie went to a trainer's home in Yacolt, Snickers stayed at the Cantera Equestrian Center, which Julie Kennedy and two business partners opened Oct. 1.
The 40-acre property now has 21 horses, Kennedy said Monday at the equestrian center, where most horses are used for riding lessons and pony parties.
Snickers, whom Kennedy estimated to be 5 years old, will soon be examined by a veterinarian. The mare may be pregnant, Kennedy said, and needs her hooves cared for, plus vaccines.
"They need a complete overhaul," she said of Snickers and Sweetie Pie.
She said the horses have not been trained, and for the first few days Snickers was by herself. On Monday Kennedy put Snickers in a paddock with Jazzy, a low-key horse that gave Snickers her space.
Training will take at least five days a week, Kennedy said. But she was encouraged that Snickers allowed Kennedy to brush her, when a day earlier she didn't want to be touched.
"You have to move really slowly with her, or she goes away," Kennedy said. "Yesterday, it took 10 minutes to catch her."
She said Snickers isn't terribly underweight but needs to gain muscle.
"She was one of the mares that was in better condition," she said. Snickers will stay at Kennedy's equestrian center for four weeks.
"I think she has a really good shot of being rehabilitated because she's so friendly and curious," she said. "She's going to train quickly, I think."
Turning to Snickers, who only occasionally jerked away while she was being brushed, Kennedy said, "What a good girl you are."
Kennedy said she's confident the group will find a loving home for Snickers, as homes have been found for 107 horses since the group began seven years ago.
Brown said the program has had as many as 22 horses at once, and its annual budget has ranged from $14,000 to $25,000.
There are five horses receiving care at this time.
In addition to Snickers, Cantera is home to another Adopt-a-Horse. Diesel is a draft horse who needs an $800 eye surgery and to put on another 400 pounds before he's ready to find a permanent home.
The group doesn't get any money from Clark County, even though Clark County Animal Control relies on it to take horses in abuse cases.
The department receives more than 100 calls about horses a year. An estimated 35,000 horses live in Clark County, Brown said.
Ripley's Horse Aid Foundation offers vouchers for feed and veterinary care that are distributed by animal control officers. The Skagit County-based group used to receive $5,000 a year from the county but was the victim of budget cuts in 2012.