To say Lacey was in rough shape when she was rescued from a Surrey property five years ago would be an understatement.
The blue-eyed palomino paint yearling was gaunt, with skinny limbs, overgrown hooves and a fear of everything, even a blanket.
Fortunately, to say she’s doing alright these days is also an understatement.
“She looks amazing now, it’s hard to believe that it’s the same pony,” said Lacey’s ‘mom,’ Kathy Gilleran.
“She’s the most loving and affectionate and trusting pony you could imagine. That’s kind of what blew my mind with her.”
Lacey, believed to be between six and eight years old now, was among nearly five dozen animals that were seized by the SPCA during a cruelty investigation in August, 2015.
They had been kept without proper access to water, food or shelter; conditions that a senior animal protection worker described as “disgusting.”
Unfortunately, the seizure was not the first that the BC SPCA has dealt with involving horses, nor was it the last. Most recently, 27 horses were among nearly 100 animals seized by cruelty-investigation officers in late September from a farm near Princeton.
In each case, extensive – and expensive – efforts are taken to treat, rehabilitate and rehome all of them.
And while for some, the story does not have a happy ending despite best efforts, many others, matched with the love and attention every creature deserves, go on to thrive.
It is these stories of hope, perseverance and survival that inspired Kamloops photographer Leanne Peniuk to do what she could to help.
Peniuk began a quest last spring to capture the “happily-ever-after stories” for a book that would be sold to raise funds for the BC SPCA’s equine division.
Rescue Me – published earlier this month – is a coffee-table-style book that shares the stories of 25 horses, including Lacey, that have been rescued by the BC SPCA and successfully rehomed.
Every year, the BC SPCA seizes between 50 and 100 horses from unhealthy situations. In some cases, the animals have been intentionally harmed; in others, the skin, respiratory, digestive or other ailments they are found to be suffering with have resulted from a lack of understanding or education around their required care, or a lack of the finances to properly provide it.
In her five years as manager of the BC SPCA’s equine division, Leiki Salumets has seen all of the above. As well, the cases where someone who acquired a horse for a specific purpose such as competing, then didn’t want the expense of caring for them after those ‘useful’ days came to an end.
“When I’m at work, I sort of compartmentalize a little bit, so that I can just be professional and get through my day,” Salumets said. “If you let the emotions in… I would probably be crying all day.
“I have a window out of my office that looks into the first stall (of the SPCA’s Good Shepherd barn) and there’s an underdeveloped, skinny horse standing in front of me, and to know that that horse could turn out like Lacey just keeps you going – knowing that there’s good things on the horizon.”
Proceeds from the sale of Rescue Me – the first run of 500 copies will translate to around $16,000 – are earmarked to support the care and rehabilitation of the Princeton rescues.
Publisher Jill Veitch – who grew up in South Surrey’s Crescent Heights neighbourhood but now calls Kelowna home – described the team effort and determination to pull the book together as “heartwarming.”
“Everybody has a passion for it,” she added.
The book, edited by Langley’s Martina Montgomerie, hit the (online) shelves on Nov. 6 ($55, available at www.leannepeniukphotography.ca/rescue-me), and the sale of each one is enough to care and feed a rescue horse for one day, she said.
“It’s kinda neat when you can know that your money (helps),” Veitch said.
The book also include insights from Salumets and a prominent foster caregiver, as well as some information on the process that surrounds an SPCA seizure.
“We tried to make it as complete a picture (as possible),” Peniuk said. “To really use it as a tool.”
Peniuk – who, like all involved in Rescue Me, has had a passion for horses for as long as she can remember – said even though the book is finished, it’s noted as ‘Volume 1: Humans Saving Horses’ for a reason: there is another chapter yet to come.
“Next year, I want to work – this is basically the yin and yang project – on horses saving humans,” she said, explaining that she will be looking to tell the stories of people for whom horses have had a healing effect.
Among so many other things, horses – given the chance – can teach about perseverance, patience, resilience, confidence, relationships and trust.
“We save horses, but horses also save us,” Peniuk said.
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