Sunday, October 05, 2003
Never Too Old

Staff Writer
When I originally set out to interview Bill and Deana Donohue, I thought I would be doing a story on a horse they had recently purchased named Casey.

Casey was of interest because he was an especially large horse at more than 19 hands or six foot five inches and was unique to this area as he was a Belgian Draft horse. I knew that Casey had been somewhat neglected by his previous owner in Oregon, who had left him out in a field of mud with little to eat and no fresh water.

When I called Deana to set up the interview she spoke briefly about Casey’s condition.

“His feet are in really bad shape,” she said. “He is suffering from mud fever, a condition we don’t see much around this area, but is caused by the bacteria in the ground in wet, muddy regions like Oregon where Casey came from.”

Now I admit I don’t know much about horses, but I thought Casey might make for an interesting article, so I agreed to meet with Deana and Casey later that week.

I arrived at Deana’s house early one Saturday morning. I immediately spotted her and Casey outside the barn. Deana was soaking Casey’s feet in large buckets, something she must do every day.

She told me about Casey and the horrible conditions that he had endured. She showed me the abscessed sores on his hooves that were so painful he could hardly stand and the sores on his bony hips that developed because he has to lay down often to stay off his feet.

“Casey is severely underweight,” she said. “He only weighs about 1,500 pounds, but normal weight for him is around 2,300 pounds. However, his being underweight is probably a good thing, because his feet are in such poor condition they can barely support him now.”

As I finished looking over Casey and took his picture Deana asks,”would you like to see the others?”

Others? I didn’t know there were others — as if Casey wasn’t a big enough handful.

She led me into the barn and I was amazed at what she pointed out.

There was Cinnamon who is blind in one eye, and Festus who is almost completely blind and only sees shadows, along with Gorilla and Jesse.

“Jesse is our resident senior citizen,” Deana said with a smile as she scratched him behind his ears. “Jesse is chocolate palomino and is over 30 years old. Lucky for him, he will get to live out his last days in the lap of luxury.”

Then she asked again, “would you like to see the others?”

“There’s more?” I asked.

“Yep, out in the pasture — come take a look,” she said as she and her dog hopped on a golf cart and anxiously awaited me to get on.

Out in the pasture hidden behind the house and barn, were at least a dozen more horses.

As we rode out the horses came running up to greet us.

I sat in awe as Deana told me each or their names — Popeye, Bugsy, Charlie, Fresno— and each of their stories — neglected, starving, abused. Even though they were all of different colors and had very different stories that led them to the Donohue’s ranch, they all had one thing in common — they were old.

I quickly realized that although Casey’s story was interesting — he wasn’t the only story out at the Donohue’s place that day.

The real story was the work, effort and love the Donohues put into saving these horses.

To most people blind, skinny, old horses wouldn’t be worth keeping much less spending thousands of dollars on each year, but the Donohues have made it their life’s mission to rescue and care for such horses.
They have even named their cause after their own personal motto — “Never Too Old.”

“Never Too Old is an equine rescue program me and my husband started about

three-and-a-half years ago,” Deana said. “We have managed to rescue and save almost 100 horses to date.”

“Our goal isn’t to make money off of the horses, we just want to save older horses that can still be useful from going to the butcher,” she added. “We take the horses in, get them back in good health and then try and place them in a good home, where a family can enjoy them.”

The Donohues have placed many older horses with families over the past few years and have even donated several of them to boy’s and girl’s homes around the area so they can have a horse to call their own.

“We donated one of our horses to a children’s foster home in the Abilene area. She was an older horse and very gentle. She is now a big part of the children’s therapy.” Deana said.

“They (the children) talk to her, pet her, brush her and just love on her. For many of the kids who have never owned their own pet she is a dream come true.”

Donohue admits caring for all these horses does take a great deal of work, time and money. Both she and her husband have full times jobs outside of their rescue efforts and often work well into the wee hours of the morning caring for the horses.

“We do spend an awful lot of our own money on the horses buying things like feed and supplies,” Deana said. “We couldn’t do it without the help of our vet, Dr. Marlon Hobbs and our farrier, Tim Lewis. It seems like those guys are out here constantly giving of their time. We are also blessed because people will donate supplies to us on a frequent basis like bags of feed or fly spray.”

Because of the many hours and costs involved, Bill was reluctant to get involved in rescuing horses.

“When Deana first wanted to get the rescue efforts started I thought she was a little crazy,” Bill said. “I didn’t know anything about horses and didn’t know how on earth we would afford to do this.”

But Bill gave in and eventually began to support Deana’s rescue efforts.

“We sold our large brick home in town and moved out here so we had more land and could care for more horses,” Bill said. “We bought this small double-wide and built this barn, a far cry from what we had before. But we did it because we love helping these horses.”

Deana said for her, this love for horses started at a young age.

“I lived in the city and every now and then I would get the opportunity to go out to the country and ride horses in Brownwood at my father’s friend’s house,” she said. “I loved every minute of it.”

The man with the horses was Sammy Jacobs, and Deana says that she owes her inspiration for starting the Never Too Old program to him.

“Mr. Jacobs would always have twenty or more horses out at his place saddled and ready to go when the kids got there to ride,” she said. “There is no telling how long it took him to get them ready and then put them away at the end of the day.
But he never asked for help, he just really liked to see the kids enjoy the ride.”

Deana said she hopes the horses she provides to families will have the same effect.

“I really believe that the reason I stayed out of trouble when I was younger, was because I kept busy with horses either riding them or caring for them, and I wouldn’t have been interested in them if it wasn’t for Sammy Jacobs,” she said.

Bill agrees the long hours and hard work that go into rescuing the horses are worth it.

“Its a lot of work,” he said. “But we sure have met a lot of great people and a lot of fantastic animals.”

Deana admits although she grows quite fond of the horses she and her husband rescue, she never has any problem getting too attached to them.

“Its amazing to see the connection that can be made between a horse and a potential owner,” she said. “The horse is so willing to forgive and forget the abuse that it has suffered at the hands of another person. The horses are just so ready to be treated with love.

“When I see that horse climb into that trailer and the look of excitement in some little boy or girl’s eyes, I know that we have done a good thing and it makes it all worth while.”