Rescue of Blind Horse Helps Raise Awareness of Abandoned Animals

UCR Police Sergeant Michael Andert and daughter Beatriz go above and beyond to help ailing mare

father and daughter with horse

Beatriz and Michael Andert with Sadie. Beatriz convinced her father to rescue the horse after she had been left behind on a foreclosed property in Riverside County. Photo courtesy of the Andert Family

Editor’s note: Scroll to the bottom of the page to read an August 13 update on Sadie.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — As she was growing up, Beatriz Andert loved horses. Images of them decorated the walls of her room and she talked about eventually becoming a veterinarian, or a similar field in which she could work with the animals.

So in mid-March, when the 19-year-old daughter of University of California Riverside Police Sergeant Michael Andert heard about a horse that had been abandoned at a foreclosed property in a nearby neighborhood in unincorporated Riverside County, she knew she had to do something.

They visited the property and found the horse was living in terrible conditions — undernourished to the point where her ribs were taut against her skin. While the horse had some food and water, she was surrounded by her own droppings and her water container was full of algae.

And on top of that, the horse was blind.

“My first emotion on seeing her was shock,” Beatriz said, adding that she was appalled by the condition of the horse and her surroundings.

Over the next few days, she learned that the horse was named Sadie, and that she had been on her own for about three months, left behind when the homeowners turned the house over to the bank. The best guess was that she was about 20 years old and that she had been blind for some time. Some of the neighbors had provided food and water, but caring for a horse is both time-consuming and expensive.

Beatriz and her friend scraped some money together and bought some hay in order to feed it once a day — far from the ideal two-to-four times a day, but with hay selling at $19.95 per bale, it was what they could manage.

Sadie at a feed station

Despite being blind, Sadie has no problem finding her food. With regular food and water, Sadie has put on weight and her coat has grown back in. Photo courtesy of the Andert Family

But Beatriz wasn’t satisfied — something more needed to be done. She wanted to rescue Sadie and find her a new home. But to do that, she would need to convince her father.

Michael Andert, a 12-year veteran of the UCPD who was promoted to sergeant in February, is a fan of horses, and his family had kept one in a corral on their property a few years earlier. But that horse was a high-energy creature that cost several thousand dollars each year in food costs and veterinary bills. And to make it worse, the horse died after being infected with West Nile Virus. With memories of that experience in his mind, Andert admitted he wasn’t initially thrilled with the idea of taking in Sadie.

“Honestly, I did not have an interest in having a horse again,” he said. “It was not something that was in the cards.”

Beatriz knew this, but she still made the pitch — could they rescue Sadie?

“The most challenging part was working up the courage to ask them about it. I had a whole speech planned in my head for a while before I worked up the nerve say anything about her,” she said. “I overcame the fear of rejection and finally spit out my offer though.”

Andert had seen the horse in distress, witnessed the terrible conditions it was in and was moved. The words of his daughter helped seal the deal.

“She is a strong willed person, in a positive sense,” he said, laughing. “When she wants something, she keeps working at it.”

There were a couple of stipulations. They could bring Sadie in, with the understanding that Beatriz would work to find a permanent home for the horse. She needed to find a job to help offset the care and feeding of the horse, which can run between $4,000 and $8,000 a year. This would be a learning experience, and she was taking on significant responsibilities.

John Freese, the assistant chief of police at UCR, was not at all surprised to learn that Andert agreed to come to Sadie’s rescue, saying that he is someone who “will do the right thing, even when no one is looking.”

“I am not surprised by their willingness to take this horse under their care,” Freese said. “Michael’s care and provision for this helpless horse is evidence of his moral character and his concern for all living things. This touching story confirms what I already knew about Michael.”

Overhead image of property

This photo from Google Maps, taken in 2011, shows the property that Sadie was found on. Her corral is in the upper right of the image. Google Maps

After the family secured permission from bank representatives to remove the horse, Michael Andert borrowed a friend’s horse trailer and they brought Sadie home. The horse, while blind, proved to be very adaptable to her new environment, though the initial reaction caused some consternation in Andert. When he placed Sadie in the corral, she began walking in circles and he was afraid that the horse was frightened or upset in her new surroundings.

But those circles soon became a spiral and it became clear that the horse was simply learning its new surroundings. A few days later, when he moved her to the main yard to graze, the horse again repeated the process, learning where obstacles were and how to avoid them.

“She walks around with her nose to the ground, kind of like a giant bloodhound,” he said. “Her head goes left and right, sniffing the ground. She knows where she is — it’s absolutely amazing. I’ve got a big shed in the middle of my yard and she can walk all the way around it without hitting it.”

With regular food and water, the horse began to put on weight its coat began to grow out. The hooves, which showed signs of her malnutrition, began to grow out as well. Andert was impressed with how quickly the animal adapted and her overall temperament.

“This horse is a sweetheart,” he said. “You can walk right up to her, you can pet her, you can walk her around. She isn’t spooked by dogs or people. And when we walk out our front door, she starts walking towards us.”

Rescuing Sadie has been a learning experience for Beatriz, who is attending classes at Riverside Community College and plans to transfer to a school that can help her towards her goal of creating a business which will provide therapy for disabled children by working with horses. Balancing time between caring for Sadie, taking her classes and searching for a job has been a challenge.

“It is harder than I thought it would be to take care of her.  I knew horses are a lot of work and I kept that in mind when we brought her to our house,” she said. “However, I didn’t realize how much time I would have to put into my college work to get it all done on time and maintain good grades. The management of time between taking care of Sadie and doing school work was more complicated than I thought it would be. I am always exhausted at the end of the day.”

It has also raised her awareness of the fact that Sadie’s plight is not an isolated case as horses have become unwitting victims of a sluggish economy. Throughout the United States and Canada, and even in the United Kingdom, hundreds if not thousands of horses have been abandoned over the past few years by owners who can no longer afford to feed or care for them. Rescue organizations are struggling to place the animals and some older animals are being put down.

“I did not plan to have her this long — it has been about four months now,” she said. “I expected to be able to find a charity group that takes older animals that would take her on in the first couple months. I quickly discovered that it is very hard to find a place with open stalls.”

Some members of the community, including many who had heard about Sadie through a series of articles by writer Peter Surowski in the Press-Enterprise newspaper, have contacted the family to offer advice, insight, donations, or even just to say “thank you” for making a difference in Sadie’s life.

“It’s been an overwhelming response. I’ve received many phone calls and emails, people are offering resources,” he said. “The Riverside Fire Department took up a collection and presented a gift card to my daughter to help out with some feed. People are happy to hear that this has a happy ending.”

The Anderts make clear the fact that they hold no ill will towards Sadie’s former owners, nor towards the bank that foreclosed on the home. They are just happy to have been able to help and hope that their story can raise awareness of the plight of animals whose owners can no longer care for them.

“I never realized that this story would turn out to be very important to anyone,” Beatriz said. “I am glad people are taking notice and caring about what is happening to horses like Sadie. I hope this will bring more awareness to the issue.”

As far as Sadie’s future with the Anderts, they are still looking to place her, but Michael Andert said that Sadie will have a home with his family as long as she needs one. “She’s a wonderful horse and is becoming a part of the family,” he said. “The pendulum is swinging towards keeping her.”

Update: August 13, 2012- Sadie Finds a New Home

Shortly after this story was published, the Andert family was contacted by Jen Baker, a Ramona resident who rescues and rehabilitates horses. Baker had heard about Sadie from a friend who had read the story in the Press-Enterprise and a visit was scheduled.

“Jen came over to our house and looked at Sadie,” Michael Andert said. “As we talked, we started to realize that although she was in a better place, Sadie still needed more expertise and care than we were able to provide.”

Michael and Beatriz visited Baker’s home and were introduced to April, another mare who was going blind. It was agreed the horses would make good “retirement buddies” and the decision was made to move Sadie to the new home.

“The experience is bittersweet, but I feel good knowing that Sadie is surrounded by other horses and that she’ll never be alone again,” Andert said.

Baker said in a post on the PE website that Sadie will soon undergo surgery to help relieve discomfort and swelling around her eyes.

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