LEE, Maine ? A cross between a paint and a Newfoundland pony, Ambassador Jinx is a short brown horse. He has white spots dappling his hindquarter, a fair amount of energy and a really big appetite.
Kept for the day in an outdoor metal corral, the 1-year-old sometimes stood quietly, sometimes nickered and whinnied at the half-dozen other horses in a nearby horse barn ? with the other horses bickering back ? but he always ate the hay at his feet or nibbled unsuccessfully at two of the four sealed bags of donated horse feed kept by the corral gate.
Though his previous rescuer has brought Jinx a long way back toward good health, stable owner Debra McKay expects that the Ambassador will chow down frequently and well during his stay.
“When he was born, there wasn’t a lot of food for him. He competed with his mother and father for it,” McKay said of the horse’s sad early months. “And he usually came out on the losing end. During the nights they would all stay in a two-horse trailer.”
With his arrival Saturday, Ambassador Jinx became the first client of McKay’s new 4R Animal Shelter, a nonprofit horse rescue facility she is building at KD Stable on Thomas Hill. McKay filed 4R as a domestic nonprofit corporation with the state on March 31 and has applied for federal nonprofit status and for certification as a state-licensed horse rescue shelter, a lengthy process.
McKay’s operation will join a half-dozen or so licensed horse shelters statewide, state animal control officials say. Her farm is already part of a larger informal network of unlicensed horse farm owners who work together to save abused or neglected horses, which includes Spirit of Hope Farm of Winterport, Ever After Mustang Rescue of Biddeford, Open Gates Equine Rescue of New Gloucester and Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals of South Windham.
That, McKay said, is what 4R is all about ? the rescue, rehabilitation, retraining and rehoming of equines. Becoming a state-certified nonprofit wasn’t entirely her idea, though she welcomed it.
“It’s not me,” McKay said. “It’s people like Lew and Karen. I had already been taking care of horses when I had these three families start sending me money every month who just wanted to help. I felt that they needed the respect of knowing that they [and their contributions] were being treated responsibly.”
Lew and Karen Noble of Lee are volunteers who help McKay handle chores around the farm.
“I’m the rented gorilla,” Lew Noble said. “I work cheap. Just feed me.”
“Deb is our friend,” Karen Noble said. “We like being here and being involved with what’s going on. It’s certainly a good cause to be involved in.”
With McKay’s horse rehab work already somewhat well-known, several local businesses have made significant donations to help keep the shelter operating, donations being a crucial component of any nonprofit’s survival. Aubuchon Hardware of Lincoln on Saturday donated the four bags of feed and a bag of carrot treats to Ambassador Jinx on Saturday, an $87 value, sales clerk Ty Oliver said.
“It helps out a good cause,” Oliver said. “We help out several rescues in the area. She was a regular customer with us and does a lot with the horses. They are in good hands.”
Sheltering and rehabilitating horses can be a very unforgiving grind of a business, particularly in these difficult economic times, but McKay has the grit and savvy to hang with it, said Andrea Barstow, managing director of First Light Farm Equine Shelter, Inc. of Perry.
“Anybody can hang out a shingle and call themselves a shelter, but there are probably only a handful of incorporated shelters around there,” Barstow said Saturday. “Most shelters expect they will make enough money off the state or off contributions and that’s not really true. You see this all the time: I just took in a horse from a ‘rescue.’ The horse had to be rescued from this rescue. I have seen shelters and rescues that are like, whoa.
“You have to have your heart and soul into it and be into it for the horses 100 percent and without a doubt Debra is in it 100 percent for the horses,” added Barstow, who has known and worked with McKay for more than 10 years. “The thing is, Deb has been kind of doing this for a while anyway. She has had a for-profit business but she has always been there for horses, but so much of it has come out of her own pocket. That’s why so many people have encouraged her to do this.”
McKay has a long list of items her charity can use as donations. Anyone looking to experience farm life or to work with horses, such as a scouting troop or other youth organization, can find plenty to do at her farm. She also has several fundraisers planned. Several turnout areas, two barns, a stable and a corral need to be built, with supplies and equipment needed for all the work. McKay is undaunted.
“Come see this place in a week,” she said. “It will look totally different.”
WHO: Debra McKay
WHAT: 4R Animal Shelter
WHERE: KD Stable, 22 Thomas Hill, Lee, Maine
WHEN: Call 738-2248 for visiting hours or to make donations
WHY: 4R is a nonprofit rescue facility for abused or neglected horses
HOW: McKay said she welcomes visits from children’s groups, schools and any others who might want to see the horses or donate labor to their health and welfare