Cold is cruel to ailing filly

MONROE — Jaime Taft is trying to save a horse’s life, and Mother Nature isn’t helping.

The filly — gaunt and covered in sores — was rescued along with two others from a Snohomish field on Orchard Avenue Dec. 7.

The owner, a 27-year-old Snohomish woman, turned over custody of the horses to police. Two remain under police care, but the third, the saddest of the bunch, was sent to Taft. She runs Save a Forgotten Equine, a nonprofit equine rescue organization, at her Monroe farm.

A storm forecast to hit the area this evening could bring high winds to the area. Volunteers are scrambling to find a heated stall they can keep the filly in tonight. Anyone with information should contact Taft.

Her horse rescue group doesn’t have a heated stall. It’s uncommon for horse owners to have heated stalls because the weather is usually so mild in the Northwest.

Police are continuing to investigate and haven’t made any arrests. Snohomish County prosecutors will determine whether charges should be filed.

The filly, named Whisper, had been perking up this week under Taft’s loving care until Friday morning.

When Taft walked into the stable, she found Whisper lying on the ground.

Bitter cold temperatures had done their work on the filly overnight, despite the heavy blankets strapped to her back and the heat lamps pointed toward her stall. It’s not unusual for horses to lay down. But for a weak horse, it can be nearly impossible to stand again without help, Taft said.

“The longer she lays down, the weaker and colder she gets,” she said.

Taft grabbed the horse’s halter and tried to pull her up.

“Come on, come on,” she urged softly.

The filly lifted her head, groaned, tried to get to her feet and then flopped back down.

“If she can’t get herself up, we’re in trouble,” Taft said. “I don’t like how she looks right now.”

She grabbed a thermometer and took the horse’s temperature: 97 degrees. The filly’s temperature should be closer to 100 degrees.

Taft reached her hand under the blankets and rubbed Whisper’s brown and white flank, trying to get some warmth circulating. Warm air huffed out of the horse’s nostrils, her liquid brown eyes watched Taft work.

The Monroe woman pulled her cell phone out of her back pocket and started making calls. Even though Whisper was starved until her bones protruded, she still weighs 600 pounds. It would take at least seven people to get this filly back on her feet.

Another horse in the next stall whinnied. Taft left for a moment to crack the ice in frozen buckets around the snowed-in farm and to toss feed into other stalls.

Taft and other volunteers care for nine rescued horses here and another 11 at foster homes.

The nonprofit got its start when Taft, a lifelong horse lover, heard about some neglected horses slated for the slaughterhouse and wanted to rehabilitate them. Taft, who works full-time as a program manager for Microsoft, spends at least two hours a day feeding and caring for the rescued horses on her farm.

This past week she’s spent closer to four hours with the horses, struggling to keep them warm and watered.

They don’t have any more room for horses. In order to take Whisper, Laura Clarke, a Snohomish police records clerk, offered to take care of another of the group’s horses at her Arlington-area farm.

The nonprofit receives calls every week from people who can’t feed their horses and no longer want to keep them, Taft said. Some people get a horse thinking they’ve got a pasture and they won’t need to spend much to feed their horse. Pastures don’t grow in the winter and feed for a horse can run about $325 a month.

Every winter, some people can’t take of their horses. This year it seems much worse, she said.

The nonprofit also tries to work with owners to find a new home for horses they can’t keep. It’s a fine line between people really down on their luck and those who just want a handout.

“We have very limited space,” she said. “Our priority are those horses that truly have no hope unless we take them.”

Horses like Whisper.

“Her color is really bad,” Taft said in the phone. “She’s got icicles on her nose. She’s been down awhile.”

Within 30 minutes, trucks begin pulling up to Taft’s farm.

Volunteers, friends, vet assistants and two animal control officers all crowded into the stall, surrounded Whisper and began heaving her up to standing position. For a few minutes, the horse teetered on her legs and the volunteers linked their arms under her belly as a bowl of steaming mash was brought.

“Oh, she’s a heavy horse,” someone grunted.

Whisper hungrily slurped down the mash, ears and eyes suddenly perky again.

“She’s good, she’s got good gut sounds, she’s doing OK,” said Dr. Jennifer Miller, just after Whisper regained her footing. Miller, a vet with Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital in Snohomish, first examined Whisper after she was rescued. The horse looks brighter today, but Miller described her outlook as guarded.

“I think we’ve got to find something better here or she’s not going to make it,” Taft said.

Reporter Debra Smith: 425-339-3197 or dsmith@heraldnet.com.

Help save a horse

The rescued filly, Whisper, needs a heated stall tonight. Anyone willing to help can call Jaime Taft of SAFE at 206-484-2741.

The nonprofit also could use donations of cash and feed, including orchard grass hay, alfalfa pellets, senior feed, rice bran pellets and vegetable oil. These can be delivered to 27706 Old Owen Road, Monroe.

Checks, made out to SAFE, can be mailed to: SAFE c/o Bonnie Hammond, 12236 Old Frontier Road NW, Silverdale, WA 98383.

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