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'Night at the Races' at Meadows benefits Humane Society

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Friday, Feb. 28, 2014, 11:21 p.m.

The ponies and their owners came together Friday night at the Meadows Racetrack & Casino to help the dogs, cats and other animals in the care of the Washington Area Humane Society.

Five years ago, the organization rescued about 30 emaciated and malnourished horses from a farm. The Meadows Standardbred Owners Association and several of its members stepped up then to help.

“We're all animal lovers — or at least we should be, or we shouldn't be in this business,” said Leslie Zendt, 45, of Houston, a trainer and driver who adopted one of the horses rescued that day. “It's something we as an industry should strive to do, help more unfortunate animals.”

As part of a “Night at the Races” benefit for the Humane Society, the owners' association and the Meadows each donated their commissions from wagers placed on Race 7, totaling about $2,000. Owners and trainers chipped in more than $500 in donations, and people donated pet food and other supplies.

“It means a lot that people actually know we are here and what we do for the community,” said Laurelle Dicks, general manager of the Humane Society.

The Humane Society's annual budget is around $900,000, all from private donations, Dicks said. The shelter holds about 40 dogs, 70 cats and a Russian boar confiscated from its owner.

Any horses or other large animals that come its way are placed in foster care. In February 2009, humane officers discovered more than two dozen horses wasting away in a field in South Franklin. Several lay dead on the ground or in a stream.

None of the horses was standardbreds, the type used in harness races at the Meadows in North Strabane. That mattered little when it came to helping, said Jeff Zidek, spokesman for the owners' association.

“Sure, we love harness racing, but everybody has a place in their heart for all horses,” Zidek said.

The owners' association hopes to build off its event with the Humane Society, as it has for the Breast Cancer Program at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC and the Greater Washington Area Food Bank, said Heather Wilder, public relations and marketing director for the owners' association.

“Every month, we want to focus on a different charity,” Wilder said.

Zendt said she supports organizations that help animals. The 2-year-old colt she took home is now 7 and named “Junior.” Her 12-year-old step-granddaughter, Lexie, rides him in barrel races.

“I'm the little girl who brought home dogs and cats. If I see an animal in need, it's heartbreaking,” Zendt said.

Jason Cato is a staff writer forTrib Total Media . He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or

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