The Thomas fire erupted in early December 2017. By the time it was contained in January, it had burned through 281,893 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. It caused $2.2 billion in damage, forced more than 104,000 people to evacuate and mobilized 8,500 firefighters — the largest such force ever in California.
The Thomas fire was the best thing that ever happened to Tommy.
More than a week after the fire started, the horse was found near Santa Paula, emaciated, filthy, singed and untethered to person or place. He was barely alive. Good Samaritans with a trailer took him to where they knew he would be welcome and safe: the Humane Society of Ventura County in Ojai, a disaster evacuation shelter approved by county Animal Services.
A nonprofit unaffiliated with the Humane Society of the U.S., the society is a “high live-release” sanctuary on 4.4 acres, much of it devoted to a large-animal population not typically found in urban areas.
Today, it has permanent corrals and 100 stables, but Greg Cooper, director of community outreach, said there were no such permanent facilities when the fire started. The facility had lost power the first night, so staff and volunteers worked by car headlights to erect temporary corrals as trailers deposited horses evacuated from burn areas.
Before the fire, the shelter housed 91 animals, mostly dogs and cats. The peak fire evacuation population reached 321, including horses, donkeys, alpacas, rabbits, goats, pigs and snakes. All but about 10 stray dogs and cats ultimately were reunited with their owners.
All 70 horses sheltered at the Humane Society of Ventura County during the fire were reclaimed by their owners.
All but one: Tommy.
Assumed to be abandoned, Tommy received medical treatment for dehydration and starvation, and for his singed hair and neglected hooves, which were overgrown by years. Caked in mud and ash, Tommy was washed and groomed and emerged as a big, beautiful, white horse. A big, beautiful old white horse. He was about 25, so weak that one veterinarian said he should never be ridden again. He would need medical care for the rest of his life and, like all horses, room and board, and regular manicures and new shoes.
The screening process to adopt any horse is rigorous — owners must have sufficient space and finances to maintain them in good health. Tommy was an even more demanding case because of his age and medical and dental infirmities. The Humane Society of Ventura County was prepared to care for him for the rest of his life.
Then Anne met Tommy, and sparks — the good kind — flew.
Anne Scioscia, a gracious woman with a heart the size of a Clydesdale, loves horses. The human love of her life is her husband, Mike, former longtime manager of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. They live in Westlake Village, where Anne had read about Tommy’s rescue in the Ventura County Star.
She grew up in Thousand Oaks, had a horse as a kid and another shortly after her first child was born. But soon, she realized, “I had to make a choice — the baby or the horse.”
The baby won.
By the time of the fire, the Scioscias were empty-nesters, and Anne, again, was feeling unrequited equine love. She visited Tommy at the shelter in February 2018, and then left for Arizona to be with Mike at Angels spring training. On their first day back in April, the Scioscias drove to Ojai to check on Tommy. After his condition became clear, a few potential early adopters backed out. By mid-April, he was a Scioscia.
Tommy lives at Peck Farm in Moorpark. Owner Nancy Peck, a former exercise rider and trainer at Santa Anita Park racetrack, told Anne he was sound enough to ride, which she does several times a week. Sitting regally atop her huge, happy horse, Anne is a tiny, elegant figure. Mike, a onetime Dodgers catcher, is … not. He’s content to watch her ride and shoot video.
Anne calls Tommy “feisty — look what it took for him to survive.”
Mike calls him “expensive.”
If he were Mr. Ed, Tommy would call himself “lucky.”