Donations put horse haven back in the saddle

Times Staff Writer

A Northern California sanctuary for hundreds of old and ailing horses that was in danger of shutting down has received enough donations from well-wishers to continue operating through the winter, its manager said Friday.

“Our situation is a complete reversal of what it was only a few weeks ago,” said Barbara Clarke, who runs the remote Dream Catcher sanctuary, about 120 miles northwest of Reno. “The support has been overwhelming -- in capital letters.”

The plight of Clarke’s nonprofit, formerly called Dream Catcher/ a.k.a. Equus Sanctuary, was detailed in an article published Wednesday in The Times. She said hundreds of horses would have to be euthanized if the sanctuary shut down.

Essentially, the recent closure of an Antelope Valley horse sanctuary with a similar name had a devastating effect on her operation, which houses aging, ill or abandoned horses. In June, the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control raided the Equus Sanctuary. Fifteen of the 100 horses were in such poor health that they had to be euthanized. The manager, Janis Damiani, was sentenced to two years and eight months in state prison after pleading no contest to animal abuse charges.


Clarke’s donors mistakenly came to believe that her sanctuary for 200 mustangs and domestic horses and the one raided by animal control authorities were, as she put it, “one and the same.”

After total monthly donations dropped from roughly $10,000 to $500, Clarke removed “a.k.a Equus Sanctuary” from her title.

A week ago, she notified Lassen County animal control authorities that she might have to close down the operation.

Her financial troubles eased after the Times article was published.


“We’ve received more than $70,000 in donations,” said Clarke, 60. “One donation was for $50,000, and it was made anonymously.”

“There were lots of donations for $1,000,” she added. “Quite a few people sent a few dollars.”

Among the donors was magazine editor Victoria Talbot, a self-described animal lover.

“Aging animals, particularly horses, are the most helpless creatures on the planet,” Talbot said. “They are a huge and costly responsibility. Taking care of them is a thankless job. This woman needed help.”


Donor Susan Riss said, “We just can’t forget these animals. Wild mustangs and domestic horses are an important part of the American heritage.”

Now, Clarke plans to stock up on hay, pay off debts and plant a hayfield on Dream Catcher’s 1,200 acres.

“One can’t help but feel good about the human capacity for compassion when this kind of thing happens,” she said.