HUNTINGDON - Cozee Valee Rescue & Sanctuary Inc. founder and president Beth Hearn made a promise.
She vowed to "keep saving the old ponies" after her son, Reese, born with Down's syndrome and a heart defect in 2005, died at 2 weeks old.
Her and her husband, Roger, knew their son had Down's syndrome before his birth and Beth, always an animal lover, planned to encourage such a love in her son when research she did revealed children with Down's syndrome tend to have a natural affinity for animals.
Mirror photos by J.D.?Cavrich
Beth Hearn, founder of Cozee Valee Rescue & Sanctuary Inc. stands in front of a stable with Charlee, a 33-year-old pony from Maryland.
Bryan Hearn, 11, works with Manlee, a 2-year-old miniature horse, at Cozee Valley Rescue.
Hard times have made keeping that promise difficult, though.
"And we struggle, but I keep it going because it's what I promised, number one, and it's my passion," she said. "And I just had some people say, 'You know, there's two or three ponies that need you,' and I said, 'I can't help that.' Until we adopt more out, we can't take anything else in. Then you're stressing this place even more."
Hearn, her family and a small number of volunteers keeping Cozee Valee going are not alone in their struggle to help save the equine population.
To make a donation
For more information on scheduling a visit or making a donation, visit the Cozee Valee Facebook page or its website, cvrescue.org. Or call 599-3023. Donations are also accepted through the postal mail, 9649 Sipes Road, Huntingdon, 16652.
"Almost every horse rescue in the country is running out of room or money as they continue to be strained by an influx of abandoned equines, a trend that began during the recession," said a July Associated Press story written by Sue Manning. "Although hundreds of nonprofits nationwide care for thousands of horses, resources are stretched thin. When the downturn started seven years ago, some owners got rid of their horses, many donors discontinued contributions to horse charities and adoptions plummeted."
The Central Pennsylvania Humane Society does not have a facility to house a horse, but the organization's humane officer "has taken horses out of situations where the horse was not being properly cared for. But we have to find a rescue or farmer to care for the animal. It's a very rare occurrence," Jill Reigh, CPHS director of outreach and marketing, said in an email.
When Beth makes calls to network in order to find an animal a home other facilities are full too, she said.
The Huntingdon nonprofit, which incorporated in 2008, is currently housing 12 ponies, its maximum, Beth said.
"We adopt out the ones that are able to find homes, we bring them in, rehabilitate them and adopt them out," she said.
The organization added the sanctuary part to cover older and disabled animals that will never leave what is hopefully a temporary home to those healthy and young enough for adoption.
"We have young ones that were mishandled in the beginning and people didn't know what they were doing and they were in bad, bad shape and we brought them here and had them vetted and then rehabilitated them," she said.
The phone calls for people looking to surrender their animal come weekly right now, because in the summer some owners are able to sustain them using a pasture, but when winter comes the calls will increase to daily, she said.
The rescue and sanctuary, which is a Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries-verified facility, cuts costs where it can.
"The reason why we went to ponies and minis primarily now is because of the cost," Beth said. "We can feed three or four ponies to one horse. When you get those horses that are bigger and harder to maintain it costs a pile of money. And we don't have a good support system, so financially it kills us."
The prices for necessities such as boarding, vets, farriers, feed, vitamins, electricity and bedding went up with the recession, a California rescuer told the AP.
Beth learned how to trim the hooves of her animals from a farrier to save money. At $35 each and with 12 to look after, the cost adds up, she said.
"So we're cutting costs. We're doing what we have to do," she said.
Roger bought hay making equipment and learned to make hay himself, and her son, Bryan, 11, and other kids, volunteer.
When money doesn't come in, it falls on Beth and her family to step up, she said.
Cozee Valee is doing what it can to keep down the population, gelding stallions shortly following their arrival at the facility.
"In our adoption contract there is a no-breed clause, because we are strictly so against breeding because the population's just overwhelmed," Beth said. "We're fussy about where all the animals go, but especially the mares because I could adopt one tomorrow and between now and a month from now when I check on it, they could have bred her. It's a touchy situation. So the mares I try to keep them close to me. I try to adopt them to people I trust implicitly."
Horses and the like are a long-term commitment, living 30 years or more. Ponies live even longer, Beth said.
Such long lives lead some owners to grow tired of the commitment and "ditch" the animals, she said.
"It's sad and some of the ones we have were show ponies that were no longer useable and they were going to be sent to auction. And some of them we found at the dealer. People called us, who had been down at the dealer, like, 'Can you come down to McVeytown and pick up this pony. It's ancient. It doesn't belong to go to the auction,'" she said.
Such was the fate of the pony named Ruthee; that is until a group of women on Facebook pitched in money to save her.
Cozee Valee does not pay for animals to come there.
"We can't take out of these animals mouths to pay for one to come in, we just don't pay for animals -- but these ladies got together and they paid the bail, I call it bail or ransom, and then she came here. So she's here getting fat and sassy now," Beth said.
Beth would like to welcome more volunteers to the nonprofit, which runs on fundraisers, grants, sponsorship and tax-deductible donations.
Cozee Valee's annual yard and bake sale fundraiser is being planned for the fall.
Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.
Follow her on Twitter (@AmandaGabeletto), Facebook (Amanda Gabeletto Altoona Mirror) or on her Mirror blog "House of Gab" at www.altoonamirror.com.