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Gainesville woman on rescue mission to help neglected, abused horses

Mother, daughter run Last Stop Horse Rescue on a farm in Hall County

POSTED: May 8, 2016 1:30 a.m.
JENNIFER LINN/The Times

Joyce Pomeroy took in Benny in August 2013 when he weighed only 562 pounds. Six months later, he weighed 912 pounds. His recovery at Last Stop Horse Rescue was documented on video and posted onto YouTube. The video went viral - it has almost 1.5 million views on Youtube - and led to the ASPCA naming him the Rescue Horse of the Year in 2014.

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Ten years ago, newly retired Joyce Pomeroy met a pony named Emma. The encounter between the two changed Pomeroy’s path in life.

When Pomeroy came across the pony, Emma had been in seven homes in her eight short years of life. Her previous owners had not been able to ride her, because Emma was never trained properly to be ridden. She would get scared and confused when people tried to ride her.

After hearing Emma’s story, Pomeroy made her a promise: this would be her last stop, her forever home. With that, Last Stop Horse Rescue was born.

BEGINNING HER SERVICE

After years of serving as an EMT and first lieutenant at the fire department as well as working in a cardiologist’s office, Pomeroy knew she had a passion for helping.

“I started with saving people on the ambulance, fighting fires and doing CPR ... that was in my blood it seems,” she said.

When she retired, she wondered what was next.

“I thank God that Emma came into my life,” Pomeroy said. “I realized I could make a difference and help her.”

Pomeroy started a rescue in Prentiss, a town in northern Maine in 2006, on 20 acres of land with three shelters.

Six months after rescuing Emma, a Clydesdale named Belle came into Pomeroy’s life. Belle had severe anger issues which was dangerous since she was big and powerful. Pomeroy took on rehabilitating Belle, using her training of natural horsemanship from Pat and Linda Parelli.

“Within three months, I was riding her bareback,” Pomeroy said of her progress with Belle. “I made a promise to her ... the way a horse comes to me, those triggers will always remain but they don’t have to use them with me.”

According to her website, she has rescued 64 horses and had 40 adopted.

In October, Pomeroy and her rescue relocated to Gainesville. She left nine horses in Maine, but 14 made the journey to Georgia with her.

“I chose to leave them there because they’re in extensive rehab,” Pomeroy said. “The ones that are here with me, they have to be with me. If one is adoptable, I adopt.”

SURROUNDED BY LOVE

Pomeroy relocated to Gainesville to be closer to her family. Her daughter, Toni Helen, helps with the rescue, acting as director and serving on the board of directors.

“I was living alone at the farm and caring for these horses and the winters in Maine were brutal,” Pomeroy said. “I felt that at my age if I continued I wouldn’t be able to move physically and health-wise.”

Helen gladly welcomed her mother’s decision to move.

“It’s taken me 14 years to get her here,” Helen said. “My mission was just to give her an opportunity to have the best of both worlds. To be able to continue rescuing horses, but to do it in a place where she’d be near family.”

Helen said she knew her mother would only move if she could bring her horses.

“So I did everything I could to make that happen as far as funding and trying to raise money and get donations,” she said.

The move to Georgia has not only benefitted both women, who believe family is important. Pomeroy also is more accessible to her other daughters, who live in Florida and California. She can drive to Florida or fly nonstop to California out of Atlanta’s airport. Those were not options in Maine.

Helen said she’s happy her mother can be a part of her children’s everyday lives, attending baseball games and witnessing important milestones firsthand.

“I think that she’s the most selfless, giving person,” Helen said.

Pomeroy said she has the best of both worlds with her grandchildren, daughter and horses all in one area.

“I wanted to be surrounded by the love of my family,” Pomeroy said.

But she is not limiting her love to her family and horses. Visitors of all ages may come to the rescue to meet and learn about horses.

“I have young children come to the rescue and I teach them,” Pomeroy said.

Her daughter also brought a fresh outlook to the rescue. Helen has helped with fundraising by writing three children’s books based on tales from the rescue. Proceeds go directly to the rescue.

The inspirational books encourage readers to believe in miracles.

“It’s all about hope, trust and never giving up,” Pomeroy said, adding it is a lesson she hopes readers will apply in their own lives.

The books are available at laststophorserescue.com by clicking on “donation” and specifying it’s for a book. The books are also available on Amazon.com.

Books have been donated to hospitals and schools and other organizations to inspire children.

“It wasn’t about writing a book, it was about children understanding that they have self-worth,” Helen said.

HELPING HORSES

One of the horses that made the trip from Maine to Georgia is Benny, who is the subject of one of Helen’s books: “Last Stop Horse Rescue Saves Benny!”

He is also a celebrity is his own right. Benny was named the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’s Rescue Horse of the Year in 2014 after a video of his rescue became popular on the internet.

Last Stop Horse Rescue took in Benny in August 2013, when he was 4 years old and weighed a mere 562 pounds. He even had a hard time standing.

After six months of rehabilitation, he weighed 912 pounds and has continued to heal and flourish. Not only can he now stand on his own, but he can carry riders.

A video documenting his recovery has almost 1.5 million views on Youtube and can be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=dggpFBk88kI.

Benny’s story helped spread the word about Last Stop Horse Rescue and its mission. Youtube comments and Facebook posts show people are still concerned about his welfare and check on his progress.

Pomeroy helped Benny and several other horses in a similar way, but customizes each horse’s rehabilitation to meet its needs.

Each horse comes to the rescue with different issues, ranging from medical problems to anger or trust issues.

When a horse arrives, Pomeroy sits quietly with it in a secluded area to form a bond. Next, she assesses the horse by determining its good and bad habits such as biting or kicking. Then, she has a veterinarian evaluate the horse. Finally, the horse goes through rehabilitation and later joins the herd.

Part of the rehab includes daily interaction, which includes touching and brushing, Pomeroy said. She doesn’t use force or intimidation and never takes it personal if the horse reacts negatively toward her.

“I ask nicely, and it may take longer for the horse to understand,” she said. “But I’d rather have a horse do something because they want to rather than if they have to. You can still be kind without having a horse walk all over you. It’s called respect. I respect the horse, they respect me.”

Even after completing rehab, horses can’t always be ridden.

“I don’t do training to get them ready to go on a trail ride,” Pomeroy said. “These are rescues.”

At Last Stop Horse Rescue, it’s the horse that chooses the person who will adopt it. Horses need to go to the person who will keep the horse’s best interest at heart.

“I take in the worst of the worst and I want to make a difference,” Pomeroy said. “If a person comes to the rescue and a horse picks them ... if they’re experienced and want to give them time and continue what I’ve been doing then that’s the person.”

VOLUNTEERING TIME

Other times, though, a person picks Last Stop Horse Rescue to help such as Linda Sartore.

The Gainesville woman is one of the newest volunteers at the rescue. She said she rescued a golden retriever a few years ago and since has become fascinated with rescue stories.

“I love to see how they take someone who’s been abused and out of terrible conditions and they turn their lives around,” she said.

After riding horses with her sister in-law in Florida earlier this year, Sartore came across Benny’s story. After realizing the rescue was based in Hall County, she reached out to the rescue with a donation.

Pomeroy thanked her for the donation in an email, noting the nonprofit relies mostly on donations. To continue to grow in Georgia, Pomeroy said consistent donations are needed.

After the email conversation, Sartore asked to visit the rescue and has been back several times.

“I had been wanting to do something like this and thought maybe this is where I could do it,” she said, adding she previously thought about volunteering at an animal shelter but thought she would want take all of the dogs home.

“I feel like a horse is like a dog, you can look into their eyes and you develop this relationship with him,” Sartore said. “I felt this connection with the horses and decided to go to work with her (Pomeroy) and get to know the horses.”

And helping with the rescue works for her since she can’t take a horse home in her car.

“I think it’s amazing what she’s doing for these animals that someone has forgotten or abused,” she said.

Sartore, however, is not the rescue’s only nearby supporter. Bill Truelove, who met Pomeroy when she purchased hay from him for her horses, leases the land to the rescue and believes in her mission.

“I’m glad someone’s doing it,” he said.

Pomeroy said she is just keeping her promise to Emma and all horses she has helped. She will continue to do so in Maine and Georgia.

“I had promised all of these horses they would never be in harm’s way again,” she said.



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