It turned out that we had been planning a small house concert at our place in a few weeks and I suggested…ok…I probably TOLD Les that we were going to turn it into a fund-raiser for SAFE (Save A Forgotten Equine) after I learned they were caring for the horses seized in the Elledge case. We belong to the Parrot Heads of Puget Sound, a Jimmy Buffett fan-based club that promotes community service and ‘giving back’. It’s fairly typical of us to hold functions and raise money or donate our time & energy in support of what we consider good causes. Our good friend & musician, Jerry Gontang, performed on our back deck (under tarps in the rain, I might add!) and we were able to raise about $700, which I sent off to SAFE. Upon receiving our donation, SAFE VP, Bonnie Hammond, contacted me and asked if I was free to come up and meet the horses at Jaime’s farm in Monroe that following weekend. Of course I jumped at the chance to get to see them in person…the horses…but meeting the SAFE crew would be good too!
As I drove down Hwy 2 through Monroe, I came upon the first landmark that Elledge had given me “Turn left at the red barn that was a gas station & Indian food place”…as I approached it, I could feel my muscles start to tense up and my heart sped up too. I hoped not to have to make that drive down Woods Creek Rd because I wasn’t sure I could do so without breaking down. Thankfully it was the road after that…Old Owen Road. As I pulled up I met Bonnie, Jaime and Safe volunteer Valerie who had begun working on Kokomo’s rain rot…. combing…pulling…combing…pulling… it would eventually take hours over several days to work on that mess!
While I was waiting for a breaking point, someone suggested I go look in the stall next door to see if I recognized anyone in there. There I met Jasmine a bay Arabian mare and her filly, Ella. I was both touched and shocked at the same time. She did not look familiar to me but she was definitely making her impression on me right then. Here was this mare, skinny and undernourished, feeding her baby. Jasmine’s face haunts me to this day. It appeared she had no facial muscles in her face because her lower lip was hanging several inches below her face. It exaggerated the gauntness but made her look a million years old. How could anyone do this to a horse? Who breeds a horse who looks like that…or worse yet, breeds a horse like that over and over so many times that it sucks the life out of her? Across Jasmine’s face was a severe scar from an ill-fitted halter she undoubtedly wore constantly. I could hardly imagine how an animal could muster the will to live in that condition. Perhaps it was her instinct to provide for her baby. Perhaps it was conditioning to the years and years of neglect she suffered as a “prize” mare in the Elledge herd. What a terrible lot in life to be treated so disgracefully yet be so in-demand for her fancy foals. Shameful…. absolutely Shameful!
I was also directed to the new filly and her Dam who were hanging out in the arena. That turned out to be the very adorable Ariel & Amber who was every bit as ravaged as Jasmine but had managed to keep her face together. We so often think of the joys of motherhood & the beauty of nature in witnessing animals and their babies. These scenes were nothing short of horrific when you take in the big picture that these horses were bred over and over in addition to the fact that they were not fed, watered, vetted, wormed or groomed. The horses were baby factories for the mad professor of breeding, Jean Elledge.
As I chatted with the SAFE ladies and fed Kokomo some treats in an attempt to extend his patience for standing still for his treatment, I learned that approximately ten of the horses on the SAFE Farm owned by Jaime Taft were there “in secret”. They were allowed to keep and care for them as long as they didn’t publicize the fact that they were doing so. Snohomish County said it was because of the ongoing investigation to the Elledge Case and that these horses were evidence. It was speculated later that it could also be damage control for the failure of Snohomish County to have acted in time to save horses lives, among the many theories. None of which, however, bought the “evidence” excuse.
I, for one, will never point fingers directly at Animal Control for my frustration in attempting to report Jean Elledge to the authorities. What I ran up against was a huge case of apathy when it came to acting on the possibility that animals were being neglected. I can’t say that Animal Control didn’t do their job because I was never even informed that there was such a department that I could report it to in Snohomish County. As we recall…it was the Sheriff’s department who brushed me off. It had not been that high of a priority. Thinking back to the phone call I had with the deputy investigating my trespassing incident, they still hadn't connecting the property to the offense until I pointed it out. Although, to the credit of the deputy I spoke to in March of 2008, once he did make the connection, I was cleared, basically excused and the matter was dropped.
King County was a different story, however. They seemed quite motivated to tell the press and anyone else who would listen that these horses had been neglected, some to death and that they were doing all they could to prosecute Ms. Elledge. I eventually learned that once Elledge was arrested in Snohomish for the neglect & death of the horses on the Monroe Pastures that Snohomish Animal Control called King County where Jean Elledge lived in Carnation. As it turns out Carnation & Monroe are not that far away from each other but happen to be in two different counties. King County Animal Control was dispatched to the Elledge residence and four dead horses were discovered and approximately ten more were in severe states of neglect. Therefore, there were two cases against her, one in each county. This probably turned out better in the end but she still only eventually faced 3 felony counts of 1st degree animal cruelty in each county even though there were some 30 horses involved overall including approximately 12 deaths that were eventually attributed to her (lack of) care practices.
My day visiting SAFE was both emotionally draining and hopeful at the same time. I had to believe that these horses were on the road to recovery and that their horrors were behind them. Tragically though, that was not the case for every horse there.
A Buckskin mare named Willow had a 4 month-old filly, Lilly, on her side at the time of the Carnation seizure. Willow was one of the horses who was described in early media accounts as near death but giving everything in her to nurse her filly. It was obvious that this walking skeleton of a horse had but one purpose…to keep her baby alive. Initially, it seemed that Lilly had an advantage over the other horses in that she did not require Jean Elledge feed her. Her nourishment came from her mother. Things seemed fine for more than a month but then things went very wrong. Lilly had gone from one of the hopeful stories of the seizure to the most tragic. Although she was not reliant upon her neglectful human to care for her, she already had a time bomb ticking inside of her. It could be because of her Dam’s lack of pre-natal care. It could be because of parasite damage due of the lack of proper worming in any of the horses in that herd. It’s even been speculated that her Dam might possibly have been bred back to her own Sire. It could just have been one of those natural malfunctions but Lilly's bone marrow was compromised and she was not able to fight off infection. Her little baby body turned on itself with fury. Heroic efforts were made to save her, including a weeklong stay at Philchuk Equine Hospital with King County’s approval. Yet despite all the emotional and financial support, Lilly could not be saved. I still count her among the lives that Jean Elledge is responsible for ending.
Sadly, Lilly’s struggle and passing came immediately following the loss of another baby, Ella; The filly with the diamond shaped “Kiss Spot” directly on her nose, belonging to the tragic-faced mare, Jasmine. Little Ella came to SAFE in a weak state and while she perked up enough for everyone to get to know her beautiful little, true self, she suddenly declined. Her little body had also been too far damaged to survive. One day, she laid in the pasture and seemed to shut down & give up. Despite everyone’s best efforts the little beauty died 3 days later. A necropsy revealed severe parasite damage to her internal organs; most specifically they had eaten holes through her tissues, including her heart.
There was nothing either of the Dams (who were both reported to be very good mother’s to their babies) could have done to make a difference although it seems they would have if they could. Their abuser gave little, if any, care to the health of the Dam and what effect that it could place against the life of the babies they bore … and she so gruesomely desired. Though both fillies died from different causes, it’s clear their “breeder” could have done so much more to give them a fighting chance.
When I learned that every one of the horses from that herd had severe parasite overloads, and necropsies on the horses who died prior to the seizure had confirmed the same parasite damage as was found in Ella, I finally realized that must could have been Coconut’s issue as well. Her severe colic and the fact that Dr. Best said her intestines appeared to malfunction…and her very large belly at the time we rescued her are all indications that she, like her herd mates, must have been carrying a tremendous infestation of parasites. I finally felt like I had an answer to why Coconut had become so ill, even several months after she came home with me. Even though it probably would have been helpful to take a stronger treatment approach to her parasite issues (and eventually I did, which seemed to be part of a turning point in her well being) there was too much internal damage already done. It became even more of a miracle to me that she pulled though. It was probably because of the good care she’d had over a longer period of time that gave her a little extra help or she certainly would have died. I understood that had it happened while she lived on the pasture…and it certainly would have, it was her own time bomb waiting to explode…she would have died on that pasture. No one would have come out to feed her in the morning (because they didn’t feed there!) and find her rolling on the ground... no one would have walked her while they called the vet out (because they didn’t use vets) and no one would sat with her for hours while she found the strength to pull through. She would have been scared and she would have struggled. She would have died. It might have been days before they discovered her body out there on that pasture. She would have died not understanding that she was deeply loved. Her life would have passed and it would not have mattered to anyone. She doesn’t deserve that kind of ending! No horse does…
Lily & Ella died knowing love. Love from their Dams who struggled though their own neglect & abuse attempting to spare the lives of their babies. Unfortunately, they had no power to undo the crime of their captor…their creator…their abuser. Lily & Ella knew love through their rescuers...their angels...who showered them with care & kisses how kind people can be...they lived and touched the lives and hearts of many in their few short months on earth. They didn’t deserve to die, but they deserved the love and admiration they gained…they serve as a reminder of why we do what we do in rescue.
This post has been extremely difficult for me to write…I’ve been in tears myself at many points this evening. I’ve had to go back to the threads of these horses to refresh some of the details & in doing so was reminded of how deeply I felt about these horses as we knew them...but they are not forgotten…not by a long shot. Their lives and their deaths are both something very meaningful…
Please see their full stories & visit the SAFE website at www.safehorses.org to find out more about what is done to help neglected, abused and at-risk horses.
Here are links to the individual threads for each of the horses mentioned in this post: