By Taylor Aube
A stone’s throw away from the Methodist University campus is a local non-profit which specializes in saving abandoned and abused horses. Located in Linden, the Leilani Mae Horse Rescue’s mission is to rescue horses from neglect, abuse and slaughter with a focus in North Carolina.
The way the community comes together to help serve these gentle beasts is amazing. From an entire family, to aspiring veterinarians, to the Better Opportunity for Single Soldiers (BOSS) program out of Fort Bragg, volunteers are a blessing to the owner of the rescue, Debbie Gillis who is a retired 1SG of the U.S. Army. The rescue started in November 2013 and it runs on donations and volunteers… there is no paid staff. Every donation goes a long way, “every single penny goes to hay, feed and medical care,” Gillis explained.
The Leilani Mae Horse Rescue is a safe haven for horses and provides rehabilitation and a second chance at life for horses from around the country. The unique name, Leilani Mae, was the name of Gillis’ mother. She said, “My mom was a big animal advocate and she taught me to be kind and help animals. She was the type of person that if someone didn’t have money for groceries she would pay for them. She didn’t even have much herself. Those lessons taught me to take care of one another.” The legacy of Leilani Mae lives on within this horse rescue… it is the epitome of selflessness.
Rescuing a horse is, at times, extremely difficult. Most of the horses at the Leilani Mae Horse Rescue come from a background of abuse and neglect. When asked how she finds horses to rescue, Gillis explained, “Mostly people call and say they saw a horse on the side of the road. Sometimes we get calls from someone’s neighbor saying there’s a neglected horse in the yard next door, sometimes we have to get animal control involved. A few times people have driven by and dropped a horse off at night.” Along with saving local horses, Gillis travels to slaughter auctions around the Mason-Dixon line and and bids on the horses to save their lives – to give them a second chance. Volunteer Victoria Lett, a Medic in 83rd Civil Affairs said, “I’ve been coming out here for two years and I love his place. It’s my sanctuary from dealing with the military and it’s my escape from Army life. Volunteering here allows me to have a piece of home - being able to actually help and give these horses second chances at life. There are so many horses that come here and end up in better homes.”
Animal abuse is a very real thing and it happens more often than one would think. A scarier thought than abusing and neglecting an animal is the fact that horses are being constantly sent to kill pens to be butchered for their meat. Gillis said, “We get calls from ‘kill pens’ all of the time. The majority of our horses come from auction. If I don’t bid on them and buy them they are going to be slaughtered for their meat, specifically for the European market.” Gillis stated that 144,000 horses were sent to slaughter last year. According to The Humane Society of the United States, the ways in which horses are slaughtered are horrific.
At the slaughterhouse, horses are
brutally forced into a “kill box” and shot in the head with a captive bolt gun in an attempt to stun them before slaughter, a process that can be inaccurate due to the biology and nature of equines and result in animals sustaining repeated blows or remaining conscious during the kill process. Gillis sighed in relief, “Right now there is a bill in the works called the The Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act to prohibit exporting horse meat and also to end horse slaughter in the United States.” Although these are small steps to justice for these beautiful animals, the fight is far from over. Gillis continues this fight every single day, helping and saving horses that nobody cared about to begin with.
When asked why people abuse horses, Gillis was at a loss for explanation. “The statistics for horse abuse have gone up in the last couple of years for some reason. I don’t know if you can blame it on the economy, or knowledge on how to feed a horse. Unfortunately, it’s mostly because people simply lost interest in caring for their horse, it’s sad.” The Leilani Mae Horse Rescue is constantly taking in starved horses. With the help of donations and volunteers, Gillis and her team works with the horses to rehabilitate them and get them back to health. The team show these horses the love and care the horses have lacked their entire lives and give them a miracle in return – a forever home. Gillis shared a story of one of her miracles,"Dixie Mae was a starvation case. She was skinny. She was just skin and bones. She came from an auction and we treated her at the rescue. Soon enough, she was adopted and now an 11-year-old girl owns her and she’s an eventer and a jumping horse!” This is one of the many success stories Gillis had to share of her incredible work.
The Leilani Mae Horse Rescue would be struggling to care for these horses if it weren’t for their dedicated volunteers. Two of their special volunteers include Dr. Brian Garrett (DVM) of the Animal Hospital of Fayetteville, along with his wife Taryn. Luckily for Gillis, this couple lives down the road from the rescue and always goes above and beyond to help care for the horses. They donate their time, expertise and most importantly love to help save these once neglected horses. Gillis elaborated, “We took in a colt that was inevitably going to die. I had no place for a baby and Taryn kept the colt in her barn and she took care of it. The colt wouldn’t have survived without her.” A volunteer on site, sticking some “green goo” on an open wound of a horse, was a veterinarian student at Methodist. Mary Prapp (Methodist ’17) explained how she got involved, “My friend introduced me and once I came out I fell in love. They bring you right into the family here. Since I’m studying to be a veterinarian, specifically with large animals, this gives me so many hands-on opportunities like meeting Dr. Garrett and seeing him work on the horses. I get to deal with open wounds so it gives me the experiences I need for vet school!”
Before one adopts a horse, they need to learn the reality of caring for these animals first. The adoption process is lengthy, as it should be. Gillis does not want her horses to get stuck in the cycle of abuse and neglect. She elaborated, “Potential adopters will fill out an application with questions such as: ‘Can you afford this horse? What are you using it for? Where will it stay? Our adoption contract comes with major requirements: a three-sided shelter, no barbed wire and the financial (and timely) means to supply the care to the horse.” Handling a horse requires a lot of work, but the outcome is undeniably worth it. The monthly average for feed and hay is $100. Trimming is $35 and you have to get their teeth checked once a year for about $125. If you board the horse in a barn that’s another $400 (food included). Equine healthcare can be very expensive. Despite these costs, owning a horse is unlike any other experience. For those who grew up around horses, have owned their own or simply enjoy their beauty, the ability to love and be loved in return by a pet horse is priceless.
Volunteers can choose what they can contribute: they can help with grooming, feeding and cleaning or spend time with the horse just to give them attention. To get in touch on how to volunteer, call 904.236.8928. Donations can be made on the organization’s website, http://www.leilanimaehorserescue.com
On May 21st in Wade, Taryn Garrett is having an equestrian eventers and western horse show where all of the proceeds will go to the Leilani Mae Horse Rescue. For more information, e-mail email@example.com.