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Equine Angels watch over neglected, retired horses

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Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012

Equine Angels Rescue was the saving grace for more than two dozen horses in the past year.

"I just absolutely love giving horses a second chance," said Equine's founder Pam Vivirito, 41, of Middlesex Township. "I especially like the off-the-track horses. There are so many horses that give their heart on the track, and they're just disposed of after they're done making money."

In the past year, Equine Angels took in 28 horses that were either rescued from neglect situations at local farms or were retired from racing at tracks like Penn National, Belmont Park (N.Y.) and Mountaineer (W.Va.).

About 15 of the horses have been adopted. The rest are among the 37 horses boarded at Durango Equine Center, in Jefferson, which Vivirito has leased since May 2010.

Vivirito originally started the rescue operation at Hunter Hollow Farm in Mars, but leased Durango so she could use horse-boarding fees and arena rentals to support the rescue.

"I had no idea it was going to be so big," said Stacey McCall, 53, of Winfield, a longtime friend of Vivirito's who volunteers at Equine Angels three to four days a week. "I expected it would be maybe a horse or two coming in. I had no idea how much horses go through."

Butler state police and the Butler County Humane Society say they occasionally get calls from people concerned about horse neglect. They refer people to rescues like Vivirito's or the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

"I must get three phone calls a week with horses in a neglect situation or someone who needs to place their horse because the economy," Vivirito said.

Expensive operation

Owning a horse used to be popular, but in the current economy it's a luxury, she said.

"They require a lot of time and money," she said.

The grain bill to feed the rescue horses is about $2,000 a month, Vivirito said. Hay, medical care and blacksmith services add up, too, she said.

To help cover expenses, Equine Angels has four sponsorship levels that range from $25 to buy hay for a horse for a month to $100 to buy hay and grain and fund veterinary care and blacksmithing for a month.

"It's amazing the changes you can see in horse when you give them good food and a lot of love," Stacey McCall said. "They go from scared and neglected to horses who can learn how to trust people again."

McCall's daughter, Jennifer McCall, 21, also a volunteer, recently adopted a 22-year-old white Percheron named Prince, a retired parade horse that was on the verge of being slaughtered by his owner.

Neighbors of the farm had been calling rescues and begged the owner to relinquish Prince to them so they could find him a home, Stacey McCall said.

"He was thin; he had skin infections everywhere," she said.

Jennifer McCall knew nothing about caring for horses before she started volunteering at Equine Angels. But after helping to care for Prince since he was rescued in October she felt she had learned enough to adopt him.

"I'm not an advanced rider so I needed a horse that I could start off with," she said. "He's an older horse, so if I make a mistake he's not going to react to it like a baby horse would."

Adoptions fees depend on how much money Equine Angels spent on training and medical care for the horse. The standard fee is between $500 and $1,000.

Adoptees must go through reference checks and must agree to have someone from the rescue do welfare checks every six months.

"I am just so fanatical about making sure they're OK because you get so bonded with them and so close to them," Vivirito said.

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