After nearly two decades of caring for unwanted equines, Mike and Chris Dodge are finding it a bit harder to carry on. Since they started their efforts, initially in Ventura, Calif., they have so far saved 400 horses.
Now in declining health and grappling with a 40-percent drop in donations, the Dodge's are still doing what they can to keep their horse rescue in Pavilion going.
Sunday, they and a group of supporters and volunteers held an open house at the rescue on Dow Road. While there were many new faces, attendance was down from previous years, Mike Dodge said.
"Donations are down because of the economy, but it's that way with every non-profit," Dodge said. "Without those donations, though, we don't have the money to do what we have to with these guys."
There are 24 horses on the ranch and it costs $125 per month -- $3,000 a month total -- just to feed them. Plus there are medical bills and other expenses associated with operating the rescue.
The pasture out back hasn't been mowed for a while because the lawn mower broke.
Volunteers help, but many of them are students at SUNY Geneseo, so when school is out, there are fewer hands to clean stables and feed and water the horses.
Dodge noted that some of his volunteers have been kids who learned to ride at commercial stables and think they might to own their own horse. What they learn in volunteering, Dodge said, is that "90 percent of the care of a horse is on the ground."
Mike and Chris started horse rescue in Ventura County 18 years ago because they thought the humane society near their home didn't do a very good job.
Mike said they would put down a horse as dangerous if it kicked up its rear legs.
"That's just a horse having fun," Dodge said.
They stayed there for eight years before moving to Pavilion so Chris could be closer to her family.
In an era when many people who thought they could afford horses, now find they can't, as many as a 100,000 horses are sent to slaughter each year -- slaughtered in Mexico or Canada, because environmental regulations make it tough to run a commercial horse slaughter anywhere in the United States.
The Dodges have two horses on their way out for adoption, which is helping to make room for one horse that can no longer be cared for by its owners.
"This little girl has been riding him every day for four years, but they couldn't find a place to board him, so we're bringing him here," Dodge said. "She's a nice little girl."
While some horses do go out for adoption, so many of the animals brought to the rescue are hard to place because they're old (one horse at the rescue is 41 years old, which is like 123 to you or me), feeble (the white horse with spots pictured below is blind, but just about the friendliest horse you'll ever meet) or too ornery for hobby owners.
"Everybody wants a horse that's easy to handle," Dodge said.
Anybody who can care for the animal, handle the $125-per-month feed bill and provide it adequate pasture and shelter, is eligible to adopt a horse.
Every horse saved is another that can be saved, and that's what keeps Chris and Mike going.
"It’s strictly for the horses," Mike said. "They can’t speak for themselves. Just like dogs and cats, they need someone to speak for them, to be their voice."
The next closest rescue in New York is in Lima, where 12 horses are boarded; otherwise, there's no other horse rescue in Western New York.
Mike said he realizes with all of the horses that have been sent to slaughter over the years, 400 rescued is "just a drop in the bucket," but it's still worthwhile.
"It sure means a lot to that one horse."
Here's a video produced by somebody in Buffalo about the rescue:
For more information, visit the rescue's website.