Article featured in Dunnville Chronicle
It was an unspoken, but very real, bond between Brenda McArthur and horses she sensed were pleading for help that changed the course of her life and career. Pursuing her passion, she began offering hope to neglected animals that in the past, had none.
McArthur and husband Dave Thompson could not bear the thought of noble animals coming to terrifying and tragic ends -especially when in many cases it doesn't have to be that way. Their personal battle against "the meat man" is the stuff from which grows tales of archetypal heroics.
The couple formed Whispering Hearts Horse Rescue in Hagersville in an effort to provide a second chance for neglected or abused horses. Many were headed for the slaughterhouse and some could no longer be supported by their owners.
McArthur's career background with the Humane Society armed her with evidence of the need as well as the ability to make a real difference.
She recently made a presentation to the Dunnville Rotary explaining how the efforts that began about a year ago had grown and achieved significant success in that short time. With that success, however, came the need for additional support and funding in order to provide care and feeding for the growing number of animals she rescues and cares for.
In many cases people have just become unable to care for their animals. In others, they have been treated dreadfully. Regardless of what led them to face the slaughterhouses, McArthur knew many horses have the capacity to be reborn into happier lives, while others deserved the dignity of a peaceful, caring period at the end of their lives.
During her Rotary presentation, she described her nemesis, "the meat man," as those who come to auctions and area farmers looking for horses to lead to the slaughterhouse in order to provide meat for overseas shipment or dog food. "I will bid against him as much as I can," she told Rotarians.
Thompson and McArthur knew horses deserve better and that; unlike cattle, they are fully aware of their fate as it approaches and will not go without a fight. It's a scene, McArthur said, "that will break your heart."
The Chronicle documented the early efforts of Whispering Hearts Horse Rescue in August, just eight months after opening, and even then the herd had grown quickly from a couple of horses to 22. However, since then, much more has happened.
"We have 10 more horses here than we had hoped to carry for the winter as the need is so great," said McArthur. "I had to turn some away as I just don't have the hay to take us through the winter. We are looking to find some hay. Round and square bales are desperately needed due to having so many more horses than we had planned for," McArthur told the Chronicle in a recent interview.
They are selling calendars and seeking partnerships to supplement the income they receive from adopting out rehabilitated horses. The Rotary is one of the sponsors which supported the calendar initiative. But much more is needed.
Volunteers and others who want to help have provided a strong support team.
"We now have Eric Proulx, a blacksmith, who is donating his time to the rescue. He comes every four weeks to trim as many as needed at no cost. We are thrilled. What a blessing as this will help every horse that comes through the rescue as we deal with many that have issues with their hooves," said McArthur.
The organization is also in need of donations of hay for food, sand and stone dust for the stalls and corral.
Many hands are helping to ease the workload.
"We have 12 volunteers that come out every week to help with the horses and give them love and attention. We have a certified trainer named Chris Irwin from Dunnville, and Tom Shields who donates his Saturdays to train the horses, work through behavior issues with them and conduct clinics to train the volunteers. He has been a great asset to the rescue," said McArthur.
There are also plans to make owners aware they have options besides selling at auctions as well as plans to raise public awareness of the need for help.
"We are also hoping to run a clinic for the public in the spring but need to get some better footing in the arena first," said McArthur. "That is why we need some sand and it can be very expensive."
She shared some success stories the ranch has achieved.
"Our recent good news story involves two stud colts that were purchased in April at auction as they were heading for slaughter. They had never been handled and were very scared. Their coats were covered in manure that was embedded in their skin. I named them Taz and Buddy," related McArthur. "After being gelded and checked by the vet and many hours of handling and care, Taz was adopted to a riding school in Binbrook. He is now showing and doing very well. The same riding school has adopted Buddy. He was picked up last night, and they will train him the same as Taz. We are thrilled that these two horses that had no hope just seven months ago now have a job and are in a great home."
Not all the stories, however, have a happy ending. Some horses cannot be helped and must be put down.
Sunni, for example, was a 20-year-old Arabian mare that was rescued from a local farm. She was severely emaciated and had 'foundered' to the point of no return.
"We had to euthanize her as the coffin bone had rotated right through the sole of her hoof. That cannot be corrected. Often 'founder' (acutely painful inflammation of the foot) is caused by turning horses out to pasture without introducing them slowly. I am not sure if this was the case here but the vet did say she had been suffering for months with this condition," said McArthur.
In such cases, MacArthur and Thompson just try to add some peaceful and caring time to the end of what has been a rough life for the animals.
With the help of the blacksmith and trainer, rescue is tangibly taking shape at Whispering Hearts Horse Rescue but they are still hoping to find a vet who will volunteer some time as this represents one of the biggest costs to the operation.
McArthur noted that Tammy Carpenter of Royal Lepage in Dunnville has been a great asset to the rescue.
"She coordinated a blanket drive for us and we received over 40 horse blankets for the rescue. The horses are now all warm and cozy for the winter. She has also collected numerous donations for us and delivered them to the farm. She deserves some recognition for her efforts," said MacArthur.
For anyone interested there are still calendars available. At a cost of $20, they are available at Cayuga Feed and Pets 'N More in Cayuga.
"I am hoping to find a location in Dunnville to sell them as well. This has turned out to be a great fundraiser," added MacArthur.
Of course, they are hoping more sponsors will step up, as did the Dunnville Rotary, to support next year's calendar.