Grace Foundation still waiting for a resolution
The footprints of countless volunteers and ebullient voices of children are all but gone though 127 horses and more than 80 other four-legged friends still live at The Grace Foundation, a 600-acre animal rescue and equine therapy ranch off Latrobe Road.
Things are hardly back to normal since the foundation briefly closed and then reopened last winter amid escalating legal battles all because a good deed became “a nightmare of nightmares,” according to founder and executive director Beth DeCaprio. “I feel like Erin Brokovich relived,” she said.
In 2011 when The Grace Foundation offered to take in abused and neglected horses from the Whispering Pines ranch in Susanville. While the ranch faced foreclosure, DeCaprio told Lassen County officials she’d take in 20 of Whispering Pines’ sickest horses that April. “You should have seen them,” said The Grace Foundation’s ranch manager Lisa Dowling. “On a nine-point scale those horses were a one or two. Emaciated doesn’t even begin to describe it.”
The remaining 36 horses came to The Grace Foundation in August 2011, but that number soared once they discovered multiple mares were pregnant. “Before then, The Grace Foundation was used to rescuing one or two horses at a time, never that many,” said Dowling. “But we did what we had to do.”
Ownership of the second group of horses wasn’t transferred as promised, so The Grace Foundation wasn’t recognized as the rightful owners and couldn’t adopt them out once rehabilitated. Meanwhile the costs of rehabilitating, feeding and caring for the horses amounted to $1.13 million, according to DeCaprio, and continues to rise. They spend hundreds of dollars to purchase 2,000 pounds of feed each day.
DeCaprio approached Bank of America and Wells Fargo, the banks who foreclosed Whispering Pines, for help, asking to be deemed rightful owners as well as for financial assistance. Bank officials denied the request, she said, stating they are not the owners of the horses and so are not obligated to help fund their care.
DeCaprio was told her only option was to return the horses, where certain death was their fate, she said. “Our mission has and always will be to rescue and rehabilitate horses,” she said. “I cannot allow those 42 horses to go back to be discarded. All they are is a financial liability to a billion dollar company. The horses are the innocent victims in this.”
In the 29 months since the real-life drama began, there have been late night raids, threats, stand offs and charges stemming from corruption, grand theft and fraud. Last week DeCaprio filed suit against the banks.
Seventy-one felony counts were filed and 65 are still pending against the owner of Whispering Pines, Dwight Bennett. “There were 28 dead horses on his property when they went in to do the search warrant,” said DeCaprio. “We thought that’s where the felony counts came from. Yet now a Lassen County official testified at a deposition three weeks ago the animals weren’t in imminent danger and said that wasn’t the reason for the removal of the horses.”
DeCaprio said she’s become a potential conspirator in a crime. “If they weren’t removed because of abuse, why are they with us? Now we’re looking at charges of stolen property and even grand theft against us,” she said.
Lassen County nor its DA are helping, said DeCaprio. “That’s why we’re now asking for a third-party agency to step in and investigate,” she said. “The saddest part is we were partners with Lassen County. We took those horses to help them out. All I want to do is get this resolved.”
Who is most affected?
Since 2004 The Grace Foundation has offered therapeutic programs for youth with the purpose “to protect, care for, and heal these two important groups — children with special emotional and/or physical needs and abused and neglected animals.”
“We’re reopened but things are tight,” said DeCaprio. “The hardest part has been we’re the only game in town for free, therapeutic programs for children. Imagine as a parent if this is the only thing your child has. How do you turn her away?” ...
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