Thursday, January 14, 2010

When the end is really just the beginning.....again

A year passed and I felt settled into my life with a horse quite well, I think. We both made friends at our barn and progressed (ever-so-slowly) in our riding skills. Everything seemed to fall into place nicely and I began to feel very comfortable in this new equestrian life I’d (re) created for myself.

Then in late February 2008 I was watching the evening news and a story came on about a large horse neglect case.

A carnation woman had been arrested at her home after four dead horses had been discovered at her property. Ten more horses were emaciated, one of which, a young colt was near death. The next scene on the TV sent shock waves through my body…this older blond haired woman walked into a courtroom in a bright orange jumpsuit and stood in front of the judge next to her attorney. The news reporter went on… “Jean Marie Elledge was arraigned in court today…” I let out a scream that sent Les & Corey flying into our family room to find me sitting on the couch in tears. “What happened?” they asked… “They got her!” I said.

The reporter went on to say that the arrest in Carnation (located in King County) had come just days after her arrest in Snohomish County after more horses had been discovered dead and starved on a pasture she leased in Monroe. There had been an ongoing investigation after reports in December that a horse (or two?) had died. Snohomish Animal Control had apparently come out to that pasture, the same pasture island hell that Coconut had come from and she’d been told that she needed to provide her horses with good food & clean water. A follow up visit discovered two more dead horses because she failed to follow through. She Failed.

Apparently she was already trying to blame it on people she’d hired to take care of the horses and they failed. But she was the “expert” right? Even if someone else did not follow through, she failed!

I continued to cry for the horses … it was not relief…it was not joy…it was horror! I’d left those horses there. I hadn’t done enough to help them. I failed. They died.

I compulsively watched every edition of the news that day and night. This continued on for the next three days. I googled her online and read every version of the story written. I watched every video. I tried my hardest to see if I could find out any information about the horses who made it out of there alive…and anything that could identify the ones who did not. Did Coconut’s mare herd survive? I was frantic. I was genuinely in a state of shock and grief.

I was able to determine that some of the horses had been taken in by a rescue group in Monroe, WA: Save A Forgotten Equine (S.A.F.E.). I found their website and started reading the accounts as they were being updated on each horse that was in their care. I wrote to them asking about the horses who made it & shared my experience with Jean Elledge and the story about Coconut. A day or two later I received an email from Jaime Taft, explaining that they had been swamped with emails asking about the horses but mostly they were deeply busy taking care of the horses. Many of those emails had come from others, like me, who had been in contact with Jean sometime in the past, many of who had also tried to report her without success. I was told to be proud that I was able to save one of the horses before she had to endure the suffering these horses had to go through as they slowly starved to death. I went out to the barn, wrapped my arms around Coconut’s neck and just bawled!

The next few weeks were kind of a blur as I poured my soul into finding out as much as I could about the horses and what had happened. Meanwhile, the near-death colt had recovered enough to be released from the equine hospital and SAFE named him Phoenix. I became especially fond of another colt named Kokomo and became his sponsor. The two of them had been in a small fenced off paddock with no fresh water and only dead blackberry bushes to eat. It was while he was trying to get to these blackberry bushes that Kokomo must have suffered a corneal scratch from the thick thorns. They and another colt, Sinatra, all appeared to be close in age and were all in horrible condition. In addition to their emaciated bodies from being starved (Body Condition Scale – BCS – of 1’s to 1.5’s…. out of a possible 9…- 2 or less is considered near death) they each had severe rain rot (a fungus that forms in their coats) due to improper grooming (basically lack thereof), lack of shelter or blanketing as well as extremely large intestinal parasites (lack of worming) & horrible hoof conditions (lack of farrier care). These conditions were reported in all of the Elledge horses.

I read a report that said there were 3 young horses in that paddock while the body of a mare who had been presumed to be one of their mothers lay decomposing just fifteen feet away. All of the feed was moldy and unhealthy and there was no water being given to these horses yet there were boarders who had horses there who were in fine condition.
That was very difficult to comprehend. It doesn’t take any responsibility off of Elledge for what she did to those horses but what were the other boarders doing still allowing their horses to remain there while horses were dying all around them…and that after months of slowly starving to death. I don’t get it…at all!

Meanwhile another report was aired about Lauren King who’s horse had been boarded on the pasture in Monroe and was now missing, a bay Quarter Horse as I recall. I had posted something on Craigs List about my experience there in Monroe and was contacted by Ms King who asked if I remembered seeing her horse while I was there. I wrote her back and explained that I didn’t think the timing matched up but would ask Corey & Kelli if they remembered the horse. Upon asking Kelli we got to talking about the horses there and we decided we’d take a ride up to the pasture that weekend to see if we could remember anything about which horses were there…basically to refresh our memories. Our friend Stephanie decided to come along.

That Sunday we drove up to the pasture, passing “Happy Valley Farm” which was still quite unhappy looking, still stuffed to the gills with junk and two horses remained, as I recall.

I parked my car in the same dirt lot and we got out and looked around. There were no horses on any of those pastures any longer. Attached to one of the fence posts was a “reward” flyer from Lauren King with a photo of her horse. We looked at it but replaced it in case someone else came out there and knew something we didn’t. We walked out onto the mare & foal pasture and recalled the encounter with the Chestnut mare with the yearling sized halter embedded in her face. Kelli pointed out the large tractor prints in the grass and told us that had to have been the rendering truck. By the looks of the many tracks there had been several “pick up” points in that pasture alone. We walked back around the shelters (pictured in the photos a few posts back… in fact, this is when those photos were taken)? And the manure was piled was worse than I remembered, and the ropes that had once trapped that Appaloosa gelding 15 months ago, had been restrung and in the same place they were when Corey had untied them to free the hungry guy.

We noted that a man across the creek over at Happy Valley Farm was walking around and could tell he was watching us. As we continued to walk around the pasture we all got a very spooky feeling being there. It felt like walking on a graveyard or in a crime scene. There was still a sense of the horrors that had taken place there and I, for one, had my heart in my throat.

About this time a white SUV pulled into the pasture and headed towards us at a fairly urgent pace. We had turned to walk towards it and when it reached us a man in his 40’s with a young boy in the passenger seat strongly asked us what we were doing there. I approached the car and explained that I’d previously had a horse out “here” (ok, not really HERE on THIS pasture) and I was trying to come out to see if I could help locate someone’s missing horse. He looked around and sarcastically said, “Well, there aren’t any horses here any more!” Stephanie asked him if this was his property and he indicated that it was not her business and that “we neighbors are trying to keep this a private matter and you need to leave!” I told the man he was right and that upon second thought this hadn’t been a very good idea and that we would leave right away. As he left we noted that he drove off and up the road to the east of the valley, not back towards the main road.

We loaded back up into my car and made our way back through Happy Valley Farm and up the driveway to the main road. Just as we approached the road a van came and blocked our exit. A dirty blond haired woman in her late 40’s (who we’ve always suspected was Jean Elledge’s sister…or at least related) rolled down her window (as did I) and started screaming at us. She yelled, “I’ve got your license plate & I’m going to turn you in!” I told her that we were leaving and that we’d already talked to the man and his son in the pasture who had asked us to leave and that’s what I was attempting to do if she’d just move her car. She looked confused and said she didn’t know who that was that we talked to. But now she wanted to know why I was taking photos…oops! She wanted our “film” and I said they were digital and she said, “I better not see those on the news!” She wanted to know why we were there and so I explained to her the same things I had told the man in the white SUV including that I had purchased a horse off the pasture from Jean Elledge and she blurted out that SHE (the driver of the van) was the owner of the property and that Jean was just a renter. Then she asked if I’d like to come down to the “house” and explain that to her brother-in-law who had called to tell her that we were snooping around her property. I simply said “No!” I was not interested in the least bit to go back to Happy Valley Farms and talk to that creep. For all I knew they were all connected to this disaster and I wasn’t even convinced yet that I was going to get out of there without a fight or maybe worse! She was one angry and aggressive woman. She demanded to know my name and phone number but all she got out of me was “Jeannette”. She eventually moved her van so I could leave.

I went home and confessed my adventure to Les. Needless to say I was a bit on edge after that encounter. Les took me out to get some dinner and upon return there was a message on my recorder from a deputy from the Sheriff’s department in Monroe asking me to call back the following morning to explain why my car had been trespassing on private property. Well the crazy lady in the car wasted no time in making sure I got reported!! I called the deputy back and left a message explaining exactly what I was doing there. He called me back Monday morning and told me that he had no idea that place was connected to the horse neglect case & said that explained a lot! I told him, in hindsight, it was a pretty stupid move to go out there and I assured him I meant no harm and would certainly not be going out there again, ever. He was very kind and said he understood and that he figured the old lady that owned the property was just concerned why someone she didn’t know was out there. Old Lady? I kinda laughed and told him that the lady was “My” age and had a mouth like a sailor…she was certainly no kind old woman and explained how aggressive she was with us. At least I felt he was on my side at that point.

Jean Elledge had posted bail and was out of jail. She'd pled not guilty and it looked like there was going to be a lot of work to be done to reverse the damage she'd those who had survived.

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