A total of 56 horses have been relocated to The Grace Foundation of Northern California’s facilities after what rescue workers described as “the most disturbing animal cruelty case [they have] ever encountered”.

Upon arrival at the “Whispering Pines” stables just outside the small town of Susanville, CA, Grace Foundation staff discovered the ground littered with the decomposing remains of twenty-five horses, along with a dog found hanging from a tree and mass burial mounds indicating that dozens more horses are likely to have perished during months of starvation and neglect. The conditions were so bad the surviving 56 horses were forced to literally step over the corpses of their fallen herd-mates in their desperate attempts to forage for food.

The owner, Dwight Bennett, maintains the horses didn’t die from neglect and lack of food and water, but from poisoning — a claim openly disputed by The Grace Foundation based on the physical findings and anecdotal reports. Dr. Mike Russell, the veterinarian who examined the surviving horses, is equally skeptical about this claim. In his site evaluation, Dr. Russell found, “Given the lack of feed, water, poor body condition and emaciated condition of the most intact carcass, starvation is the highest on my list of causes.”

The reader can find Mr. Bennett’s full defense and explanation in a heated response to negative reviews of the Whispering Pines Stables on Yahoo! Local: http://bit.ly/tsiSjY

The story of the Whispering Pines rescues has received significant regional media attention and in the wake of the Ohio exotic animal tragedy (also involving 56 animals), more and more people have been asking a simple question with significant political ramifications…why are these horrific events taking place? More importantly, what can be done to prevent these kinds of senseless occurrences?

Though numerous factors are at play, The Grace Foundation believes deregulation and austere budget cuts have created an environment ripe for these kinds of abuses. “This isn’t about pointing fingers,” said Beth DeCaprio, founder of The Grace Foundation. “It’s about taking the steps to prevent these tragedies from ever occurring.”

Though DeCaprio expresses a desire to see those kinds of reforms enacted and justice fulfilled, her main concern at the moment is bringing the Whispering Pines horses back to health — a daunting challenge under the best of circumstances, made even more difficult by recent blood test results revealing that at least 18 mares are pregnant with another dozen potentially in foal.

As a 501(c)3 non-profit, The Grace Foundation is supported almost entirely by donors, volunteers, and their innovative programs and partnerships that bring together at risk and special needs children with rescued  horses in mutually beneficial therapeutic programs. But with escalating hay prices, a stagnant economy, horse owners continuing to lose jobs, homes, and nest eggs, and budget busting austerity measures, non-profit rescues are more vulnerable now than ever.

In her most candid moments, DeCaprio acknowledges the near impossibility of the present situation. “It’s no secret that times are tough right now, and if it weren’t for the support of amazingly generous and good-hearted people, we wouldn’t be able to continue.”

Conservative estimates put the price of boarding the “Susanville Seventy” (the 56 original rescues + expected foals) at over $150,000 for the next year alone — a particularly troublesome fact considering The Grace Foundation is expected to shoulder these costs on its own while the horses remain locked in legal limbo after Mr. Bennett claimed them as assets in a pending bankruptcy case. It remains unclear how Mr. Bennett would care for the horses given that his only stated income when filing for bankruptcy came from a foster child who has since been removed from his guardianship.

Even with all these obstacles, DeCaprio remains optimistic. “Times are definitely tough on everyone right now, especially with the cuts to the county budget, and I’m not going to pretend that raising the money to care for these horses will be easy. It won’t be. But one of the greatest and most unexpected rewards of this job is witnessing the pure goodness and generosity of spirit in others.”

DeCaprio points to a recent donation of $7 from a seven-year-old girl as an example of that generosity. “It was her allowance money,” explained DeCaprio. “Her parents give her a dollar a day for her chores and in the card she wrote that instead of spending it on herself, she wanted it to go to ‘help save a life’.” Following the lead of their daughter, the young girl’s parents made their own, separate donation. “As a rescue, we expect to see the bad in humanity, and in cases like the Susanville 70, there’s been more than enough bad to get you down about the world. Then I think about that young girl and those seven one dollar bills she earned doing chores, and I’m both humbled by that generosity and inspired to live up to it.”

Following the above example, the Grace Foundation has begun a “Pay it Forward” fundraising campaign asking for donations of $7 or more to become a member of the “Susanville 70” team and the effort to make sure these horses will live out peaceful and fulfilling lives. For more information about the case, The Grace Foundation, and how you can help, please visit www.thegracefoundation.com