Long Beach couple rescues 64 baby horses targeted for slaughter

<I>LORI ASSA photo</I><BR>Leslie Maxwell leads CJ, who had emergency colic surgery, around the stable. CJ is one of 64 colts and fillies rescued by Maxwell and her husband Craig, a Long Beach dentist. Most of horses were destined for slaughter for meat in Japan, where there are no cultural objections to eating horse flesh.

SEASIDE - Leslie Maxwell has 64 babies. But just until she can sell some.

Maxwell and her husband Craig rescued 59 foals from being slaughtered for meat and five from animal drug testing during the weekend. The horses were delivered to the Maxwells from a farm in Alberta, Canada.

"I just thought that that was crazy," said Craig Maxwell, a Long Beach dentist. "I just thought it was the right thing to do ... They deserve to have a happy life."

Leslie Maxwell hopes loving owners will want a horse for Christmas. In the meantime, she watched with deep satisfaction as her "babies" munched their hay, attacked the salt lick, snorted, coughed, grumbled and occasionally tried to bite or kick each other. The barn smelled of chewed hay, horse sweat - and the occasional manure pile.

"Little Joe, I see you," she warned like a stern mother. Raised on a ranch and on her first horse at two months old, Maxwell loves her new babies and is naming them as fast as she can. "Little Joe's just a bully. He's the biggest horse here, and he knows it."

Maxwell said horses are like toddlers, always seeking attention, getting themselves hurt and eating everything in sight.

"People ask me if I want kids," she said. "Are you kidding? I've got perpetual ones. And they never call you drunk from jail."

Creating a refugeWith the help of close to 30 volunteers, the Long Beach couple has turned the 193-acre Alder Hill Farm into a refuge for unwanted foals. The horses need a lot of attention so they can get used to humans, Maxwell said. Cleaning the barn is also a chore.

"We were originally going to run a boarding stable," said Maxwell, a family lawyer. "We both decided that I was going to keep bringing home strays."

Wyeth Pharmaceuticals buys the urine of pregnant mares from 130 farms in the U.S. and Canada. The New Jersey-based company uses chemicals in the urine to create Premarin, an estrogen substitute used in hormone replacement therapy by women going through menopause, Maxwell said.

The Humane Society has documented cases in which mares on some farms are mistreated - mares may be deprived of water so their urine will be of higher quality. Foals from the farms are often shipped to Europe or Asia for human consumption. The Maxwells and others belonging to Pregnant Mare Urine (PMU) Rescue Oregon are working to save as many as they can.

Russell Hunter, the Maxwells' vet, offered to get them a psychiatrist. However, he was on hand when the trailer pulled in. Hunter saved the life of CJ, a horse that needed an emergency colic surgery. Another horse, Flame, needed hernia surgery. Cooter had a nasty laceration, which Maxwell said is a hazard of transporting horses in a large trailer. CJ and Flame probably lay down in the trailer and were stepped on. All the foals have worms.

"They didn't water them for three days in that truck," she said. "The horses emptied their water six times in the first hour."

Costly programThe Maxwells paid about $700 for each foal, taking out a bank loan. They intend to sell them to caring homes for $950 each. However, they plan to keep a few, including CJ.

"He's doing so much better," Maxwell said. "Just getting food in him and the IV for three days made a huge difference. I went out to see him and I said, 'Oh, my gosh, he's doubled! There's no ribs!'"

"We really like CJ; he's such a fighter," Craig Maxwell said. "He's quite a miracle."

The foals are very trusting, even though they have had almost no human contact, Maxwell said. Freckle followed a volunteer around for 10 minutes straight.

"They're pretty sweet babies," she said. "They're actually just gorgeous horses.

"They are just looking for that home and that person to play with them and give them companionship. Horses are social animals. We require that our buyers either have a second horse or a companion animal." Buyers have to send a picture of where the foal will live, the name of their vet and a lot of other information. Maxwell is unapologetic about this care in choosing homes.

"You don't rescue them just to put them down," she said. "I'm protective."

Lucky to liveMaxwell's first stray, Lucky, was abandoned by his owner without food or water. "He had no mane and tail because he'd kind of ripped them out reaching through the barbed wire for what little grass was there," Maxwell said. Lucky was starving, but didn't look it, because his belly was distended with worms.

Her second rescue was of two colts who had been confined in a stall for several weeks. Because of general neglect, the horses would have died within two weeks without intervention. The Maxwells named one colt Diablo because he was so wild at first, running around the paddock for 15 minutes. "He wasn't going to let anyone touch him and put him in a stall," Maxwell laughed.

But Angelo turned out to be the real devil. "He's a stinker," she said. "I put a saddle on him for the first time and he looks at it, looks at me and pulls it off with his teeth."

Keep goingThe Maxwells intend to keep buying horses who are scheduled for slaughter. After a published study linked hormone replacement therapy to serious health problems, 300 Premarin farms shut down in the last two years, Maxwell said. Unfortunately, that meant a glut of horses on the market, and many were bought by "killer buyers." Because Premarin can now be produced synthetically, Maxwell hopes the other farms will close soon. However, that will mean even more horses available for eating - though the Maxwells and others like them will save those they can.

"If anybody can pull it off, they can," said Karen Sowder, who donated equipment to help the Maxwells. "They're wonderful people."

Sowder said horses are sweet and easy to bond with, and deserve to be saved. "Apparently, thousands and thousands of them are slaughtered every year," she said, and saving a few is better than saving none.

Ten dollars buys 50 pounds of carrots, so Maxwell welcomes any donation. Old foal halters are also needed. To buy a horse or donate, call Craig and Leslie Maxwell at (503) 325-3820 or log on to (www.alderhillfarm.com).

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