Better Days Ahead
September 25th, 2016 by Victoria Hampton
Jennifer Kunz is director of operations at Dutchess Sanctuary in Oakland, Oregon.

Jennifer Kunz is director of operations at Dutchess Sanctuary in Oakland, Oregon.

Today is just like any other day at Duchess Sanctuary. A herd of mares lazily graze beneath oak trees in the hills outside of Oakland, Oregon. Jennifer Kunz leans against the gate of the large enclosure, her arms folded along the top rail, admiring the herd she has dedicated herself to protecting.

But life has not always been as pleasant for these animals. The sanctuary is home to almost 200 horses that have been saved from abuse, neglect, exploitation and abandonment.

In 2005, nonprofit animal welfare organization Ark Watch Foundation rescued a herd of mares from a pregnant mare urine operation in Canada.

“All the mares were going to slaughter,” says Jennifer, director of operations at the sanctuary. Of the 89 mares rescued, 60 were pregnant.

Before being rescued, the mares were subjected to standing all day attached to urine-collection devices six months out of the year. The urine was used for hormone therapy for women. Most of the mares’ foals were either raised to be on the urine production line or sent to feedlots to be fattened for slaughter.

After their rescue, the mares were kept on 5,000 rented acres in Alberta, Canada. Meanwhile, the foundation searched for a permanent piece of property.

In 2008, Duchess Sanctuary was born and with it the Fund for Animals. The Fund for Animals, which works in partnership with the Humane Society, took over operations of the ranch.

Jennifer accompanied the herd to its 1,120-acre forever home in Oregon.

“It was never my intention to leave my beloved Canada, but I got pretty attached to the horses,” she says.

Many of the horses at the sanctuary have been saved from starvation. Another herd is comprised of wild mustangs deemed unadoptable by the Bureau of Land Management.

Horses at the sanctuary are from all across the West. There is a limit on how many animals it can take.
“We get requests all the time, but there is no fair way to do it,” says Jennifer. “We cannot overburden our resources and compromise the care of the horses already here.”

While the original herd roams the ranch together, other horses that have joined the sanctuary are kept in separate pastures, pens or stalls depending on their needs.

“We spent more than seven years building fence, roads and structures,” says Jennifer, who also lives on the property.

One of the most unique aspects of the sanctuary is its dedication to maintaining the well-being of local wildlife.

“This sanctuary exists solely for the horses and the benefit of the wildlife in the area,” says Jennifer. “We take the wildlife habitat into account when building anything.”

It is also important to Jennifer to maintain the beauty of the land. The herds are moved from one pasture to another every few days during grazing season to avoid overgrazing and other damage associated with having an abundance of animals on the property.

“It’s easy to overburden the piece of ground you’re on,” says Jennifer. “It’s hard to fix the land when it’s ruined. These are stunningly gorgeous acres. We want it to stay that way.”

Volunteers help with the sanctuary’s mission. The nonprofit runs on more than 2,500 volunteer hours a year, along with four full-time staff.

“Most volunteers are hands-on with the horses, grooming and feeding,” says Jennifer. “Also, manure shoveling, which is never ending.”

The sanctuary hosts two fundraising open houses a year, spring and fall. This year’s fall event Saturday October 15. These events are a great way for the sanctuary to recruit volunteers.

“Nowhere else will you see a herd of 120 horses together,” says Jennifer.

From sunup to sundown, the original herd of horses and the many others that have joined the sanctuary are safe to live out the rest of their lives in peace.

“Our motto, unofficially, is we don’t want them to have another bad day,” says Jennifer. “Their bad days are over.”

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