March-April 2020

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CO T H . CO M | M A R C H /A P R I L 2 0 2 0    89 [ A C L O S E R L O O K A T ] Fleet Of Angels This nonprofit organization connects thousands of volunteer transporters with at-risk equines across the country. By Noelle Maxwell Photos By Wendy Francisco I t started with an October 2016 call from South Dakota's state attorney: Could Fleet Of Angels transport and place nearly 300 wild mustangs, out of more than 900 located at a failed sanctuary, in homes? The remaining 600 horses were held in lien by the state, and the initial plan was to auction the horses, covering the cost of hay they'd been fed, "with kill buyers being the most likely buyers," says Elaine Nash, FOA's founder and executive director. Nash and a few FOA volunteers not only agreed to help, they ultimately worked to find homes for each of the 907 horses. Some people coordinated adoptions from nearby hotels while others worked on the ground, gathering horses from barren pastures during what Nash describes as "the worst winter South Dakota had seen in decades," including temperatures at -50 factoring wind chill and blizzards blowing snow into 20-foot drifts, and then feeding and caring for them as adoptions took place. Once the initial horses were saved, FOA paid for the horses in lien after raising $150,000, and their auction was canceled. The court turned the 600-plus remaining horses over to the organization, and then for a year, FOA staff members and volunteers cared for the horses, first in South Dakota and then later in Colorado, while adopting them out. Every horse in what's now called the Hallelujah Horses case—the largest known horse rescue in the United States— found a lifelong home. "We did a thorough adoption process. All the applicants were vetted, and everyone had to take at least two horses, so they could all go with friends, which matters a lot to mustangs," says Nash. "There were a bunch of blind horses and lots of stallions. We had to go through the process of having a veterinary team geld hundreds of stallions—all wild stallions. We ended up with 40 blind horses, and some were stallions too old to geld. We even found a place for that very unique group." Since Nash founded the organization in 2012, FOA has grown exponentially, surpassing her expectations and becoming the go-to organization for emergency transportation in a wide range of situations. Need a new rescue horse transported across the country? FOA can help with that. Need 200 horses evacuated from a hurricane, flood or fire? FOA is equipped to help in those situations as well and can even help you find a place to stable your horses until you can return home. Can't source hay in your area? Yep, FOA can help there too. "I was living in New York City a block from Times Square and was seeing on Facebook all the time that people were saying, 'I'd love to help adopt that horse, or save that horse, but transportation is too expensive,' " says Nash. "I thought, 'There are so many people with a trailer sitting next to their house that they'd be happy to use to help save a horse's life if they could just be connected.' I just wanted to put together a little

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