Generosity helps teen keep Mocha (Montana)

So many horse haters come to our attention, it is sometimes easy to forget just how many horse lovers there are. They are in the majority, of course.

Let’s be thankful — and helpful — this week for these horse lovers from Montana, and all the others who come to the aid of horses whenever they can, however they can.

Oh, look. They are not only very kind and very compassionate, but also very, very smart. Now that is something to be thankful for.

Betsy Cohen writing for The Missoulian tells us all about it.

Cross-posted from The Missoulian at

MONTANA–A Bitterroot Valley teenager faced with a difficult decision to sell her young horse at the Missoula Livestock Exchange recently has learned a lesson about the compassion and generosity of strangers.

Riley Lewis took her filly, 7-month-old Mocha, to the monthly auction with two goals in mind. She hoped a family would buy Mocha and give her a loving home, and she hoped the sale would provide a financial cushion for herself and her 10-month-old son, Collin.

Instead, the 18-year-old saw firsthand how the horse industry is being hit by the downturn in the economy, and that these days, there are more sellers than buyers.

When the highest bid for Mocha was $15 – meaning, essentially, that Mocha was being sold as meat – Lewis paid to pull the filly from the auction and took her back home.

It was not what she’d planned for, but she didn’t want Mocha to be an unwanted horse, Lewis told the Missoulian in last Sunday’s story about the Montana horse economy.

Her dilemma touched the hearts of dozens of readers from around the country.

A family from Philadelphia said they would pay for Mocha and ship her back East to their farm. A woman from Texas said she wanted to help. Calls and e-mails came in from across the state of Montana.

In the end, Lewis said she wants to keep Mocha, and she is grateful to Washington resident Gary Sanders, who stepped forward to help pay for the young horse’s expenses through the winter.

The outpouring of generosity, Lewis said, has been overwhelming, if a bit embarrassing.

“It has been amazing to learn how many people care about horses,” Lewis said. “And that there are so many people out there who care, and I didn’t really think there were.”

Taking the offered help has also been a lesson.

“I am a very proud person and when somebody offers me something, I’m not really good at taking it,” Lewis said. “And with this, I know there are people out there with bigger problems than me.”

Sanders said he read about Lewis and Mocha while visiting Missoula last week.

“I’m a 60-year-old Texan and I have two horses of my own,” Sanders said in a telephone interview on Thursday. “I grew up in the horse world and I know that it can be a wonderful world, but it can also be a horrible, brutal world.

“I’m not not unaffected by that, and Riley Lewis’ story touched my heart,” he said. “As I get older, I want to let more compassion into my life.”

Sanders is thankful his career as a public works general contractor has afforded him the ability to reach out to others.

It’s his way of giving back to society, and he’s learning how to let compassion lead him.

Lewis’ feeling for Mocha – her struggle to give the young horse the best life she can – moved him, he said.

“The compassion in her that says, ‘I cannot do this, I cannot sell my horse here to an unknown future. I’m taking her back home,’ is powerful,” Sanders said. “I think there is room to help people like Riley Lewis and let others know family is not just nuclear, family is not just blood relatives.

“We are greater than that. We are a family of man.”

“If we can’t take care of each other when we need help, it says a lot about our society,” he said. “Without compassion, we are all lost.”

Montanans organize to protect horses

People from all walks of life, from all corners of Montana, are no longer willing to be silent witnesses to the increasing cases of horse neglect and abuse.

They are rallying around a fledgling Hamilton organization called Willing Servants, which was founded in response to a case of equine neglect in the Bitterroot Valley this summer.

These horse advocates – owners, trainers, breeders, veterinarians and law enforcers – are reaching out to each other and creating a formal network of concerned citizens to help horses in crisis.

At the heart of their mission: Ensuring humane treatment of horses and helping people find new homes for animals they can no longer afford to keep.

The economy is taking its toll on horses because owners are struggling to provide the proper care they require, said Dave Hedley, a Sanders County sheriff’s deputy and animal cruelty investigator. And Montana law has no teeth to inspire responsible and ethical treatment of domestic animals.

Hedley has joined Willing Servants, contributing his time and expertise as a board trustee.

“I have high hopes for our efforts,” Hedley said. “The winds of change are needed.”

For years, Hedley has seen animals suffer at the hand of man, and like others involved with Willing Servants, he wants to do his part to stop irresponsible pet owners.

To make a difference, he said, Montana’s animal cruelty laws need to be reworked.

Penalties need to be stiffer and in many cases the wording in statutes needs to be tinkered with, he said.

For instance, Hedley would like to see the words “intent” changed to “indifference” in some laws.

“When you have a case like the one I’m working on now, the person did not have the ‘intent’ to kill four horses, but the person was ‘indifferent’ to the situation that caused the death of four horses,” Hedley explained.

Subtle changes will give law enforcement and the Montana judicial system more tools, he said, and that is critical to the overall mission.

“There are a lot of things that have affected the horse – economic times, overbreeding, people moving in with no background in what it takes to have a horse,” Hedley said. “The system is definitely showing strain.”

Kathy Luedtke, a Stevensville resident, is doing her part to improve Montana’s animal cruelty laws by researching how other states handle the issue.

She’s discovered Washington state veterinarians have immunity when they work on animals involved in cruelty cases, while Montana’s professionals do not.

It’s a big issue. For example, Luedtke explained, if a Washington vet decides euthanasia is the best course of treatment for a horse that’s been chronically starved, its owner can’t sue the vet. In Montana, veterinarians don’t have immunity in such cases.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel when other states have already figured some of this out,” Luedtke said. “We want to learn from them and we want to add a little more oomph to Montana laws to encourage county attorneys and sheriffs to use the law.

“As of now, it is a discretionary thing.”

With the support of Darby lawmaker Rick Laible, the issue will be taken to the 2009 Legislature.

Luedtke hopes the emerging groundswell of equine advocates will be heard.

Changing laws is a challenge, but the first step – the most important step – needs to be taken.

“We need to let legislators and law enforcement know that’s what we want,” Luedtke said.

Hedley expects new animal cruelty laws will benefit all domestic animals.

It is hoped that improved laws will address breeding issues, and include tighter restrictions that relate not just to horses but to situations such as puppy mills.

“If you believe in love for animals, if you believe in the rights of animals to be humanely treated, contact your legislative representative and let them know,” Hedley said. “You can support the legislative movement to prosecute, and support the movement of responsible pet ownership and the consequences for owners who don’t do the right thing and seek out assistance to help care for their animals.”

Legislation that horse advocates hope to introduce in January is being written and refined now.

Still, changing the law will take several months.

In the meantime, Willing Servants is moving forward with its other agenda: improving the welfare of horses.

The organization is tapping into community resources to find safe homes for horses and to help horse owners in need, said Theresa Manzella.

“Right now, we are simply working as an informal network and, if people want to voluntarily relinquish their horses for no money at all, we will come out to their place, take pictures of their horse, get a description written, and post the information to our network,” Manzella said. “Everybody who receives the e-mails will forward them on to people they know until we find these horses homes.”

The organization is aiming for official nonprofit status, and as part of its mission it wants to establish “a final act of kindness euthanasia clinic” to serve old and infirm horses, Manzella said.

It costs about $200 to euthanize a horse and dispose of its body. Through fundraising and donations, the euthanasia clinic would help offset the cost of putting down horses for people who can’t afford the service and otherwise would likely turn to meat buyers to dispose of their horses that are sick, old or unsaleable.

“We are looking for ranch owners, about three or four sites up and down the (Bitterroot) Valley, to utilize their land for the purpose of burial,” Manzella said. “If we can organize these sites, we can pick up the horses, make it easier on the vets, subsidize the cost and offer informal grief counseling.”

Those interested in helping any of the causes Willing Servants is tackling are welcome to jump in and lend a hand.

“We will be needing foster homes, as well as multiple levels of skills, resources and talent,” Manzella said. “Get on the network list.”

Help for horses

To learn more about Willing Servants, a Hamilton-based grass-roots effort to prevent horse neglect and help horse owners in crisis, call Theresa Manzella at (406) 363-2898. To get on the organization’s network of volunteers, e-mail Manzella at The organization’s next meeting will be at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 11, at Perkins in Hamilton.

Thank you to Terry Watt for bringing this article to our attention.

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